Michael Mussa (A.M. ’70, Ph.D. ’74), former Booth professor and influential economic forecaster, dies at 67

Mussa was known for bringing humor and wit to economic forecasting.

By Marina Fang

Michael Mussa (A.M. ’70, Ph.D. ’74), former professor at the Graduate School of Business and chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, died of heart failure on Sunday at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 67.

Mussa taught international business and finance at the Graduate School of Business from 1976 to 1991. While at the U of C, he also published widely circulated economic forecasts and research in international economics. According to a Washington Post obituary, Mussa described himself as a “wobbly monetarist,” someone who sympathized with but wasn’t doctrinaire about U of C colleague Milton Friedman’s free-market monetarist philosophy.

Mussa served on the Council for Economic Advisors under President Ronald Reagan from 1986 to 1988, advising the President in the aftermath of the 1987 stock market crash. He then joined the IMF as its director of research three years after leaving the White House.

For 10 years, he authored the IMF’s economic forecasts and advised its Executive Board on global economic trends, influencing its often divisive responses to economic crises in Asia and Latin America.

“Mike did not shy away from controversy, nor did he hold off expressing his views. This could be irritating, but it was an essential part of his modus operandi, and a critical foundation for his effectiveness in forcing colleagues and fund officials to think,” his IMF colleague Stanley Fischer said in a Wall Street Journal obituary earlier this week.

He left the IMF in 2001 and joined the Peterson Institute of International Economics, where he continued to work on economic forecasts. He also presented policy predictions at the Booth School’s annual business forecast luncheon.

Throughout his 40-year career, Mussa was known for his witty takes on the state of the economy. His friend Morris Goldstein said that Mussa used to say his favorite instrument of economic policy was prayer because “it was not demonstrably less effective than the other instruments and it had none of the adverse side effects,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

He was equally renowned for his often blunt criticisms of economic officials. As reported in a Washington Post article, in his latest forecast published in September, Mussa analyzed the current Eurozone crisis. He suggested that European policy makers should “stop kissing and start kicking the posteriors of bankers whose self-interest diverges substantially from the public interest.”

A native of Los Angeles, Mussa, who never married, is survived by his brother Roger.