As President Carter’s Chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser (1977-1981) , I had the privilege of working on virtually a daily basis, usually several times a day, with Charlie Schultze, in his capacity as Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). I can say without equivocation, that Charlie was the most brilliant, incisive, talented, and decent person with whom I worked in the Carter Administration, and, indeed, in other Administrations in which I have served.
Jimmy Carter chose him early in the transition in 1976 to be his top White House economist, because of the enormous respect he had among his fellow economists; his distinguished career at Brookings, including his instrumental leadership in the widely heralded Brookings series, “Setting National Priorities”; the work he did for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign; his prior distinguished government service as the Budget Director for President Lyndon Johnson, the youngest to serve in that position at the time; his humanity and humility amidst his great accomplishments; and because of the immediate personal chemistry he developed with the Jimmy Carter.
I first came into contact with Charlie when President-elect Carter tasked him to develop the first economic stimulus package in 1976, for immediate introduction in the first weeks of the new Administration. Charlie was under great time pressure to produce a package of tax cuts and job-related spending programs, with the disadvantage of not having access to outgoing President Ford’s OMB or CEA staff. He worked until 1:00 a.m. to have a proposed package ready for an early January, 1977, meeting of Democratic congressional leaders and the President-elect in Plains, Georgia, and led the discussion. While there were inevitable changes demanded by the leaders, including more public works and jobs programs, the essential outline of Charlie’s package was proposed by the President, and, minus the $50 rebate, which the President pulled, passed largely intact.
Charlie’s steady and expert hand was involved in every subsequent economic proposal, including a second tax cut and tax reform that passed in 1978. Charlie was also a leader in developing the novel, and enduring regulatory oversight program to assure that federal regulations are cost-effective and use the least costly alternatives to achieve their results. He was an early leader in creating market-based regulatory approaches, like the “bubble” for environmental regulations.
Over President Carter’s four year term, 10 million jobs were created, double the number in President Reagan’s first term, four times more during President George H.W. Bush’s four years, and almost equal to President Clinton’s first term, with a much large labor market. Inflation was the greatest problem Charlie helped President Carter face, and we did not have the success for which Charlie, the President, and all of us hoped. But it was not because of a lack of creative ideas from Charlie, including one he borrowed from Brookings’ own Art Okun, Real Wage Insurance.
President Carter’s term was one of the most challenging of any modern president from an economic standpoint. He governed during a time of unprecedented Stagflation; declining worker productivity; and the second oil price shock of the 1970s, catalyzed by the Iranian revolution. Through it all, Charlie was a fount of wisdom, deep analysis and sound judgment, using his own great talent and that of his fellow Council members and staff, but also reaching out widely to economists of all stripes to give President Carter the best advice in this trying time. During this turbulent era, he worked tirelessly, and helped buoy our spirits . With all the manifold pressures, and they were great indeed, I never saw Charlie ever lose his temper, or say anything negative about colleagues with whom he disagreed. He had an endearing laugh, a warmth and humanity, that made him an inspirational figure for me and others in the White House and Administration.
It is little recognized, that Charlie had a one-on-one meeting with President Carter almost every week, and it served as a tutorial, rather than a way to advance his own policy recommendations. In fact, I asked Charlie several times if in additional to his responsibilities as CEA chairman, he would also serve as the White House economic coordinator of options coming from the Economic Policy Group, chaired by the Secretary of Treasury, initially Michael Blumenthal, and later William Miller. He told me that this would compromise his ability to give the President the best, most objective advice, because it would inevitably lead him to become an advocate for his own positions. This was a measure of the man.
As I witnessed in countless meetings and personal discussions over four years, for Charlie Schultze economics was not simply number crunching, although he was as good at that as any economist in the country. Rather he saw sound economic policy as a way to help the American people, particularly those most in need and the hard-pressed middle class, enjoy a higher quality of life. The esteem he carried among his fellow economists after the Carter Administration was underscored by his 1984 selection as President of the American Economic Association.
We should not forget that among all of his accomplishments, Charlie was a wonderful, loving husband to Rita, and dedicated father to his children.
I had the opportunity to spend additional time with Charlie in 1981, when I was a guest scholar at Brookings. Charlie and President Carter last met at a reunion of senior White House Staff that I hosted in Chevy Chase in 2012. It was an emotional get-together, where the shared trust, confidence, and mutual respect were evident, and moving.
I have lost a wonderful colleague and friend; Brookings has lost a valued, long-time leader; the economics profession has lost one of the most brilliant and able in its ranks. But Charlie Schultze will always be remembered with the greatest fondness as that rare combination–a great and a good man.
Stuart E. Eizenstat was President Jimmy Carter’s Chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Staff from 1977-1981