Thomas B. Worsley, 97

Economist and Procurement Expert Thomas B. Worsley Dies at 97

One of Thomas B. Worsley's first jobs in the FDR administration was to find out why some banks had stopped lending money.
One of Thomas B. Worsley's first jobs in the FDR administration was to find out why some banks had stopped lending money. (Family Photo)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thomas B. Worsley, 97, an economist and procurement specialist who began his career in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and who returned to the public eye last month with comments on President Obama's economic policy, died May 17 at Halquist Memorial Inpatient Center in Arlington County. He had complications from a broken hip.

When Dr. Worsley joined the Roosevelt administration in 1935, one of his first jobs was to travel to Cleveland to find out why banks had stopped lending money -- a situation with many parallels to the current financial downturn.

He conducted a study of farm income and held other jobs in Roosevelt's New Deal before becoming a leading authority on government procurement and economic stability during wartime.

Nearly 75 years after he first came to Washington, the Bloomberg news service turned to Dr. Worsley for the long view of the nation's financial woes. Despite changes in the banking system over the years, he said the similarities were striking.

"Banks weren't lending because they had so much bad debt on their books," he said in an April 2 interview, "what we now are calling by the fancy name, 'toxic assets.' " Bankers, he recalled, were "very unpopular with the general public."

In 1933, he said, banks had closed, and "VIPs who came to the inauguration couldn't cash checks at the hotels they were staying in." As a result, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was created to put banks and borrowers back on their feet.

Quoting economic thinker John Maynard Keynes, Dr. Worsley said the best policy for Roosevelt -- and Obama -- was for the government to borrow money to pump into the economy. Some of Roosevelt's greatest assets, Dr. Worsley added, were his personal popularity and the confidence he projected to the public.

"Everybody felt sort of close to him," he said. "Psychology is a big part of the picture. That's what John Maynard Keynes called 'animal spirits.' He said without animal spirits, people don't take positive steps. Without animal spirits, enterprise will fade and die."

He said he believed Obama was doing the right things to quell the nation's fears.

"I think he's doing an excellent job of explaining things," he said.

Thomas Blanchard Worsley was born in Columbus, Ga., and entered the University of Virginia in 1929, one month before the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression. He stayed at U-Va. after his 1933 graduation, receiving a master's degree in economics two years later.

After his work in the New Deal, Dr. Worsley joined the Office of Price Administration during World War II and served as a procurement officer and instructor in the Army. He completed his doctorate in economics at Virginia in 1949.

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