Economist, adviser, visionary, humanitarian—Robert R. Nathan, founder of Nathan Associates died September 4, 2001, at the age of 92.
A renowned economist who could explain complex economic theories in plain language, Bob Nathan was among the first economists to apply economic theories in the marketplace. Before the Great Depression, economists worked almost exclusively in the ivory towers of academe. But the stock market crash of 1929 changed everything, especially for Bob Nathan. He would spend a good part of the Depression gathering unemployment statistics, which gave him a keen insight into the free enterprise system.
Later, this insight would lead him to a career as a government economist measuring and analyzing national income. When the United States entered World War II, his national income statistics and the component gross domestic product produced information vital to winning the war. Bob Nathan knew instinctively that the same economic theories used to help win the war could be used to run an economy at peace. He formed an economic consulting firm and began advising business; industry; labor unions; and state, local, national, and foreign governments, applying tested economics principles.
From the beginning, Bob Nathan advised leaders of foreign governments and U.S. presidents—from Franklin Roosevelt to Gerald Ford. And always at the center of his advice was a free enterprise economy and competition in the marketplace. He understood the relationship between economic progress and competition. He once told an interviewer, “Many private entrepreneurs preach capitalism but fight competition.”
Bob Nathan’s grand vision was of a free enterprise democratic system that benefited all of society. “Free enterprise in the public interest” was his mantra. A New Deal democrat, he championed social causes, including civil rights, welfare legislation, and the minimum wage. He was director of a foundation that contributed to low-income housing and equal opportunity programs—causes he described as “new deal kinds of concepts.”
A natural humanitarian, Bob Nathan not only supported U.S. economic aid abroad but countless charities at home. To the international community and U.S. colleagues he was “a man who cared.” To Nathan Associates’ employees he was a mentor whose door was always open, a teacher who helped you analyze difficult economic problems, a logician who made you think, a friend who always listened, and a thoughtful boss who brought you flowers from his garden.