Monday, August 7, 2017

Gardner Ackley (1915-1998), Economist and Presidential Adviser

This post is a bit of a change of pace from the usual posts about my Ackley ancestors. Here we'll discuss Gardner Ackley -- if not outright a famous Ackley, at least a name that many people have heard. If you're old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson's presidency, you probably remember hearing the name Gardner Ackley. He was an economic adviser to President Johnson (and before that President Kennedy), and became Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in 1964. My minor in college was economics, and there was a popular macroeconomic theory textbook written by Gardner Ackley that was still in use at the time (mid- to late- '70's). We didn't use it in any of the classes that I took, but his name did come up in class more than once, and I can remember people asking me if I was related to him. I had no idea, and now all these years later I thought I'd do some research and see what I could find out.

Hugh Gardner Ackley [1]

Early Life

Hugh Gardner Ackley was born on June 30, 1915 in Indianapolis, Indiana [2]. He was the son of Hugh Mortimer Ackley and Margaret McKenzie. He rarely used his given first name of Hugh -- sometimes he was referred to as H. Gardner Ackley, but mostly he went by Gardner. According to Allen Ackley's online tree [3], Gardner Ackley was a descendant of Nicholas Ackley (so I guess I am related to him). The line of descent is:

Nicholas-->John-->John Jr.-->John III-->Oliver-->Revilo-->William-->Hugh Mortimer-->Hugh Gardner

Interesting side note -- Gardner's great grandfather's first name, Revilo, appears to be his father's name, Oliver, spelled backwards.

By 1920, the family had moved to Detroit, Michigan [4], and in 1930 they were living in Kalamazoo, Michigan [5], where his father was a professor of mathematics at Western Michigan University and his mother was a Latin teacher at a local high school [6].

Academic Career

After high school, Gardner remained in Kalamazoo and attended the school where his father was a professor, Western Michigan University. He graduated in 1936 with a degree in history and English [6], [8]. Upon graduation, he decided to pursue an advanced degree in economics because he was told it would be easier to get fellowships in that field rather than history or English. He was also motivated by the Depression, saying, ''I also had a general resentment against the Depression and felt there must be a way and that economics must be it.'' [6]

Gardner stayed in his home state for his graduate studies, attending the University of Michigan. He earned a Masters degree in 1937 [1], and completed his PhD in Economics in 1940 [1]. While he was a student at Michigan, Gardner married Bonnie Lowry; their wedding took place on 18 Sep 1937 in Bronson, Michigan [9].

University of Michigan Faculty

As we'll see below, Gardner Ackley alternately worked for the U.S. government and the University of Michigan throughout his career. Upon earning his PhD in economics from the University of Michigan, Dr. Ackley joined the faculty at Michigan as an instructor [1]. He became a full professor in 1952 [1], and was named head of the Department of Economics in 1954; he served in that position until 1961 [1].

During his time on the Michigan faculty, Dr. Ackley wrote the popular textbook "Macroeconomic Theory" (1961) [1] (see photo below); the book was republished as "Macroeconomic Analysis and Theory" in 1978 [8]. 

"Macroeconomic Theory" by Gardner Ackley (stock photo from

Early Government Service

As mentioned above, Dr. Ackley spent a good part of his career working as an economist for the U.S. government. Early in his career, he worked for organizations such as the National Resources Planning Board, Office of Price Administration, Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the CIA), and U.S. Office of Price Stabilization [1]. Several of these agencies were established to analyze and control prices during World War II and the Korean War and the period in between. Perhaps his first experience dealing with politicians occurred during his time as executive of the Office of Price Administration textile branch shortly after World War II. During a Senate hearing on textile prices in 1946, a Senator Bankhead from Alabama had the following comments for the young Dr. Ackley:

Obviously Dr. Ackley did not let these comments discourage him from pursuing a long, distinguished career as an economic adviser to the U.S. government.

Council of Economic Advisers

Dr. Ackley was appointed to the Council of Economic Advisers by President Kennedy in August, 1962. Below is a picture of his swearing-in ceremony.

Gardner Ackley being sworn in as a member of President Kennedy's Council of Economic Advisers (from John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website [11])
The official website for the White House describes the Council of Economic Advisers as follows [12]:

Dr. Ackley remained on the CEA after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and was named chairman of the council by President Johnson in 1964. It was during his time as chairman that Gardner Ackley became a household name in the United States. He even appeared on the cover of Newsweek Magazine on July 18, 1966:

Gardner Ackley on Newsweek cover, July 18, 1966 (photo from [13])
The position of Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers is never an easy job -- whoever holds the job must balance economics and politics and hope that the President heeds his or her advice. The position was especially difficult during Johnson's administration due to the pressures of the Vietnam War and Johnson's social programs that were being implemented at the time. The following excerpt from Dr. Ackley's obituary in the New York Times [6] best summarizes his success as chairman:
But Professor Ackley's finest moment, according to Professor Samuelson [Paul A. Samuelson, Nobel laureate and professor emeritus of economics at MIT], was in telling President Johnson in 1966 that the nation could not afford the escalation of the Vietnam War and the Great Society programs without a tax increase -- an increase that was not enacted until 1968, and for which delay, Professor Samuelson said, ''We paid dearly in the inflation of the 1970's.'' 

''He never told the press what he told the President,'' Professor Samuelson said, ''but President Johnson included it in his memoirs. I can't think of a better epitaph than that. It took guts, because usually people tell a President what he wants to hear.''

U.S. Ambassador to Italy

In January of 1968, President Johnson named Dr. Ackley to be the ambassador to Italy. In announcing the appointment, President Johnson described Dr. Ackley as "one of my closest and most trusted friends and advisers" [7]. The appointment of an economist to a diplomatic post might seem odd, but it actually makes sense considering that Dr. Ackley had two separate stints in Italy studying the Italian economy, the first in 1956-57 as a Fulbright Scholar, and the second in 1961-62 on a Ford Foundation faculty research fellowship [6]. He was ambassador until August, 1969.

Comments On Other Presidents

Even though he left the Council of Economic Advisers in 1968 and eventually returned to the University of Michigan faculty, Gardner was asked many times to comment on the economic policies of other presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Dr. Ackley was not shy in providing his opinion, and his statements were often blunt and to the point.

Consider Dr. Ackley's comments from the Lexington Herald in 1980 [14] when asked about President Carter's lack of success in getting his economic policies through Congress:

In the same article, Dr. Ackley had the following additional comments about Carter administration economic policies [14]:

Another example -- his 1981 comments [10] on President Reagan's plans for drastic tax cuts that economist Arthur Laffer theorized would reduce inflation and lead to increased investment and stimulate the economy (an idea dubbed by some as "trickle-down economics" or Reaganomics):


Dr. Hugh Gardner Ackley died on February 12, 1998 in Ann Arbor, Michigan [15]. He was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor [16].

Link of the Day

The link below is for Dr. Ackley's obituary in the Washington Post:

Quote of the Day

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

-- Thomas Alva Edison


1. University of Michigan, Faculty History Project, "Gardner Ackley", (accessed 28 Jun 2017)

2. Indiana, Birth Certificates, 1907-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.

3. Ackley Family Genealogy website,, accessed 11 Jul 2017.

4. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch; Year: 1920; Census Place: Detroit Ward 21, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_818; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 628; Image: 867.

5. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002; Year: 1930; Census Place: Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan; Roll: 997; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0026; Image: 790.0; FHL microfilm: 2340732.

6. McDowell, Edwin, "H. Gardner Ackley, 82, Dies; Presidential Economic Adviser", obituary, New York Times, 21 Feb 1998 (accessed 11 Jul 2017)

7. Weil, Martin, "Economist Gardner Ackley Dies", obituary, Washington Post, 22 Feb 1998 (accessed 11 Jul 2017)

8. Wikipedia contributors, "Gardner Ackley," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed 11 July 2017).

9. Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.

10. Thornton, Mary, "Economists Give Hill Panel Conflicting Views on Taxes", Evening Star, Washington, D.C., 5 Mar 1981, p. 9.

11. "Swearing-in ceremony, Gardner Ackley, Member, Council of Economic Advisers (CEA)", John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website, (accessed 13 Jul 2017).

12. "Council of Economic Advisers", The White House website, (accessed 13 Jul 2017).

13. "7/18/1966 The Economy: Whats Ahead Gardner Ackley", Vintage Magazines, (accessed 13 Jul 2017).

14. Rattner, Steven, "Economic Historians May Categorize Carter's Policies As Too Little Too Late", Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, 23 Mar 1980, p. 54.

15. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2011.

16. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

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