"JUST BECAUSE my first name is Arthur, I smoke a pipe, graduated from Columbia and from New Jersey, and am Jewish, some members of the press are convinced I should be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Not me." So, with the wit that made him as popular as he was respected among fellow economists worldwide, did Arthur M. Okun dismiss reports that he was a possible successor to Arthur F. Burns in 1977. It took no market analysts to know that he was selling himself short -- for Dr. Okun, who died suddenly on Sunday at the age of 51, displayed an exceptionally intelligent and down-to-earth mind in the rarefied atmosphere of sophisticated eoncomic policy-making.
He was the envy of his colleagues for many good reasons. As one of a young, post-World War II breed of economists who specialized in developing economic forecasting techniques, Dr. Okun possessed a dazzling combination of qualities: he was scholarly, prolific, innovative, concise and, in the mine-filled field of economic prognostication, distinctively quick to admit error. Add to that the gift of lucidity, and it is little wonder that his ideas won such wide currency and respect among members of both political parties.
He earned a reputation for apt and memorable analogies. Consider his comment on reactions to a proposed tax increase a dozen years ago: "I must say that some recent public utterances against the tax increase remind me strongly of my 7-year-old son's arguments against taking medicine. All in one breath, he can reel off a multitude of objections: he is perfectly well; he is so sick that nothing can possibly help him; it may, indeed, cure his sore throat but would surely give him an even more painful stomach ache; he will take it later in the day if his throat doesn't get better; he would have taken the medicine without a fuss if his mother had given it to him the day before; it isn't fair unless his brothers take it too."
At his death, Dr. Okun had completed most of another major work, an analysis of "stagflation," the combination of economic stagnation and inflation.At the Brookings Institution, where he had been a senior fellow since 1969, colleagues will work from some 100 pages of notes to put together the final chapter -- not just for its anticipated contributions to economic debate and theory, but also in fond memory of a man whose counsel on so many matters will be missed.