Wednesday, October 21, 2009

John Meyer

Harvard's John Meyer died yesterday. He was a great urban economist. His combined contributions to urban economics, transport economics and economic history merited a share of a nobel prize. He also served for a decade as the President of NBER (before it moved to Cambridge).

Ed Glaeser introduced me to John in the early 1990s. At that time, Harvard had a great urban economic seminar led by Meyer, John Kain and Glaeser. I presented my work in that seminar a few times and it was a great experience. I joined a Glaeser/Meyer Harvard Institute of International Development project that took us to Santiago, Chile. That introduction to "applied urban economics" was a great experience and I still have fond memories of it.

I continue to read his classic 1965 book "The Urban Transportation Problem". It is amazing how that book has stood the "test of time". The John Meyer I knew was a very serious avuncular guy who was supportive of young scholars (i.e me) but tough on them. His face was often in a half-smile as he would nudge me to think through some issue that I had naively glossed over.

My last meeting with him was in 2004 when I presented some urban transportation work that Nate Baum-Snow and I were doing at the Kennedy School. I was thrilled when I sensed that Meyer actually thought it was pretty good.

Tenured academics always face the question of; "what do I want to do next?" John Meyer represents a great model for how to continue to do great scholarship while mentoring younger scholars and simultaneously being involved in the real world. I will miss him. I was shocked when John Kain died young and I have the same feeling again.