Omaha native Lawrence R. Klein, who predicted America’s economic boom after World War II and who was awarded the 1980 Nobel in economic science for developing statistical models that are used to analyze and predict global economic trends, has died. He was 93.
His daughter Hannah Klein confirmed the death Sunday at his home in Gladwyne, Pa.
Lawrence Klein graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1938 and was inducted into the school’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1999.
As World War II was ending, Klein, widely regarded as a brilliant theorist, disputed the conventional wisdom that the postwar period would drive the U.S. economy back into a lengthy depression. Using his econometric models based on mathematical equations, he correctly forecast a flourishing economy built on surging demand for consumer goods and housing.
Although he often testified before federal bodies and served as an economic adviser to Jimmy Carter during his 1976 presidential campaign, Klein chose to remain in academia — he taught economics at the University of Pennsylvania for 33 years — and rejected an offer to join the Carter administration.
“I am just an academic giving advice,” he told People magazine in 1976. “If you are a technician and are asked for help, it is a social obligation of citizenship to give it.”
Economists worldwide have adopted Klein’s use of vast survey data to build statistical economic models for the United States and several other countries.
“Few, if any, research workers in the empirical field of economic science have had so many successors and such a large impact as Lawrence Klein,” the Nobel committee wrote in awarding him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science.
Jere R. Behrman, a professor of economics and sociology at Penn and a longtime colleague, said Klein’s work was built on the idea that the economy is a set of complex organisms — millions of people, millions of households, corporations, government and other entities — and that it is important to have simple models of these economies to understand their essence. Such models, he said, allow economists “to make predictions about what is likely to happen in the economy if there is a significant change in international markets, such as an increase in the price of petroleum.”
“Before Klein,” he added, “there had been very little work on these aggregate models.”
Klein was born Sept. 14, 1920, in Omaha and attended the former Yates Elementary School (now Yates Early Childhood Center) and Central. A 1976 World-Herald article about Klein said his senior classmates at Central named him “best student.” He played baseball for four years and basketball for two at Central, the story said.
After moving with his family to San Francisco, he received an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, then earned his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, becoming one of its first Ph.D. students in economics and earning his doctorate in just two years.
At MIT, he was a protégé of the economist Paul Samuelson, the first American to win the Nobel in economic science, in 1970.
He left MIT in 1944 to join the econometrics team at the Cowles Commission of the University of Chicago.
During his days in Chicago, Klein joined the Communist Party, a move that later haunted him, Hannah Klein said. In the 1976 interview with People, he said that party members had insisted that he sign up before lecturing to a Communist audience on Marxist economics. He left the party in 1947. But while teaching at the University of Michigan in 1954, his past association came up during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, and the university denied him tenure.
Klein and his family then moved to England, where he taught at Oxford for four years.
In 1958, he joined the Penn economics faculty and taught until 1991.
Klein is survived by his wife, Sonia; daughters Hannah Klein, Rebecca Klein Kennedy and Rachel Klein; son Jonathan; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
World-Herald staff writer Sue Story Truax contributed to this report.