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January 17, 2007
Economist Richard A. Musgrave Dead at 96
Joseph J. Thorndike and Dennis J. Ventry, Jr.

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Richard A. Musgrave, one of the leading tax economists of the 20th century, died January 15 at the age of 96. Musgrave was a pioneer in the field of public finance; his 1959 book, The Theory of Public Finance, remained a classic for decades.

Musgrave was as comfortable analyzing fiscal policy from the perspective of classical political economy as from the perspective of modern econometrics. Moreover, he wrote widely and authoritatively, often breaking new ground on subjects ranging from incidence theory to the concept of income to fiscal regimes. Having witnessed drastic reductions in marginal tax rates worldwide throughout the 20th century, Musgrave challenged colleagues and policymakers to analyze rate cuts — as well as base broadening — not merely from the relative view of incentives and efficiency, but also from the angle of equity and distributive justice.

Musgrave was born in Koenigstein, Germany, in 1910 and came to the United States as a student in 1933. Rather than return to Nazi Germany, he pursued his doctorate in economics at Harvard, graduating in 1937. In 1939 he published a seminal article, "The Voluntary Exchange Theory of Public Economy," in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. After working as an economist at the Federal Reserve Board, Musgrave went on to teach economics at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, and Princeton University. In 1965 he returned to Harvard, where he held a joint appointment in the economics department and the law school.