Jude Wanniski, 69, a contrarian editorialist and economic consultant who became an early champion of supply-side economics, died Aug. 29 at a hospital in Morristown, N.J., after an apparent heart attack.
As an editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal in the 1970s, Mr. Wanniski was part of a core group of young, revved-up conservative thinkers hired by editorial page editor Robert L. Bartley. He recalled that Bartley recruited him by saying, "Jude, all it takes is arrogance," and advocated a pithy and passionate approach to unconventional thinking.
During the national crisis over inflation and unemployment, Mr. Wanniski introduced his boss to conservative economists he knew from his beat, future Nobel laureate Robert Mundell and Arthur B. Laffer, the second known best for his Laffer Curve suggesting that tax cuts would trigger economic windfalls.
Over supper meetings, they synthesized the ideas to popularize the supply-side language, namely that a sharp reduction in tax rates prompts more people to work and creates a big increase in production. This went against a long-held conservative fear of deficit spending, and many of supply side's advocates were seen as members of a fringe movement.
Previously buried in obscure periodicals, Mundell and Laffer's ideas were given sudden prominence in one of the world's leading business newspapers. Supply-side economics became a catchphrase and a conservative cause in the 1980s, with Mr. Wanniski forevermore being tagged with cliches calling him the "high priest," "guru" or "prophet" of supply-side theory.
On the side, Mr. Wanniski advised rising Republican politicians, including then-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and a string of ambitious office seekers. He reportedly wrote a television advertisement in 1977 for a Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate.
He said he kept Bartley informed and worked with a clean conscience, but that did not satisfy many in his own newsroom, who viewed him with some resentment. Mr. Wanniski returned the rap by saying the reporters "were looking for ways to break my legs all the way along." He later wrote a tongue-in-cheek guide to Washington reporters, rating them as if they were restaurant entrees.
He was asked to resign from the Journal in 1978 after a boss spotted him in a train depot in Hoboken, N.J., passing out fliers for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate. He did not view this with shame but as a keen opportunity to form a consulting firm. He wrote "The Way the World Works" (1978), a favorite book of some economic conservatives for its damnation of taxes, and began a brief stint advising presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.
In one notorious Village Voice feature headlined "The Battle for Reagan's Mind," Mr. Wanniski alienated many other Reagan insiders who were not supply-siders and was said to have overstated his influence with the campaign.
However, with Reagan as president, Congress went on to pass the 1981 Economic Recovery Act, which included one of the largest-ever cuts in taxes on income and capital gains.
Jude Thaddeus Wanniski was born in Pottsville, Pa., on June 17, 1936, to a family with coal mining and Communist roots. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and for his high school graduation present, his maternal grandfather gave him a copy of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital."
At the University of California at Los Angeles, he received a bachelor's degree in political science in 1958 and a master's in journalism in 1959. Much of his early Democratic leanings receded in the 1960s as he saw southern party leaders fight efforts at racial desegregation.
He reported for the Las Vegas Review-Journal before joining a now-defunct Dow Jones-owned newsweekly, the National Observer, in Washington in 1965. Part of his beat involved energy coverage, and he continued to develop that expertise when he jumped to the Wall Street Journal as a New York-based associate editor in 1972.
After his six years at the Journal, he set up Polyconomics, now based in Parsippany, N.J., where he was an economic consultant and advocated a return to the gold standard.
He had several consulting jobs with the presidential campaigns of Kemp, Bob Dole and Steve Forbes. He was let go from the last after the Christian Coalition criticized Forbes, and he attacked back, describing the coalition in print as "one of the most active money changers in the temple atop Capitol Hill" and saying its director, Ralph Reed, "is clearly willing to bear false witness against his neighbor, Steve Forbes, as he did yesterday, the Lord's Day."
What shocked many in the late 1990s was his alliance with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, with whom he said he found some common economic thinking. He dared interviewers to find anything anti-Semitic in Farrakhan's past statements and touted him as the ideal man to bring peace between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East.
He liked to point out that his namesake, St. Jude, was the patron saint of lost causes.
His marriages to Beverly Wanniski and Christine Wanniski ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Patricia Koyce Wanniski of Morristown; three children from his second marriage; his mother; a sister; a brother; and a granddaughter.