Jack Calfee, economist who championed free market, dies at 69

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 11:04 PM

Jack Calfee, 69, an economist and author who championed the free market and was an authority on the pharmaceutical industry, died Feb. 16 at his home in Bethesda after a heart attack.

Mr. Calfee had spent the past 16 years as a resident scholar at the nonpartisan, conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, where he wrote on innovation, government regulation and policies affecting the pharmaceutical and health-care fields.

His first book, "Fear of Persuasion" (1997), argued that advertising can have widespread, if often overlooked, benefits by providing information to consumers and by contributing to lower prices.

In his second book, "Prices, Markets, and the Pharmaceutical Revolution" (2000), Mr. Calfee promoted the idea that government efforts to hold down the price of drugs could stifle innovation in the industry. His 2007 book, "Biotechnology and the Patent System," recommended that the government provide intellectual property protection to biotechnology firms.

He testified before Congress and federal agencies on governmental oversight of drug safety, vaccine research and advertising.

Mr. Calfee came to Washington in 1980 as an economist with the Consumer Protection Bureau of the Federal Trade Commission. While there, he was co-author of a scholarly article about how uncertainty over legal standards in the marketplace can cause economic inefficiencies. The paper was often cited in studies on economics.

Mr. Calfee taught at the University of Maryland's College of Business from 1986 to 1990 and at Boston University's School of Management from 1990 to 1993. He then returned to Washington for a one-year appointment at the Brookings Institution.

Early in his career at the FTC, Mr. Calfee worked on tobacco issues. He later became an opponent of efforts to curb advertising of tobacco products.

"I don't believe that advertising has anything to do with kids' decisions to smoke," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. He cited peer pressure and family history as more direct influences.

"If your friends smoke, you're more likely to smoke," he said. "If your parents smoke, you're more likely to smoke."

John Edward Calfee was born March 2, 1941, in Providence, R.I., and he originally wanted to be a musician. Realizing that his interest in music exceeded his talent, he graduated from Rice University in Houston with a degree in mathematics.

He received a master's in international relations from the University of Chicago in the mid-1960s and did additional graduate work in history at the university.

Mr. Calfee then moved to San Francisco to work as a computer specialist for AT&T. While there, he became interested in markets and economics and went on to receive a doctorate in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1980.

His marriage to Elizabeth Backanouskas Calfee ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Brenda Martin Calfee of Bethesda; two daughters from his first marriage, Della Calfee of San Jose and Sarah Calfee of San Diego; a daughter from his second marriage, Jessica Calfee Stahl of Washington; his mother, Rhoda Baum Calfee of Cary, N.C.; a brother; a sister; and two grandchildren.

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