Herbert Stein

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Herbert Stein
Born (1916-08-27)August 27, 1916
Detroit, Michigan
Died September 8, 1999(1999-09-08) (aged 83)
Washington, D. C.
Nationality United States
Field Economic policy
School or tradition
Chicago School of Economics
Alma mater University of Chicago (Ph.D.)
Williams College (B.A.)
Influences Milton Friedman

Herbert Stein (August 27, 1916 – September 8, 1999) was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and was on the board of contributors of The Wall Street Journal. He was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. From 1974 until 1984, he was the A. Willis Robertson Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia.


Stein was born on August 27, 1916, in Detroit, Michigan, and his family moved to New York during the Great Depression. He enrolled in Williams College just before he turned sixteen. After graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors, he went to Washington, D.C., to work as an economist in various agencies. He received his doctorate of philosophy in economics from the University of Chicago in 1958.

Stein, who died September 8, 1999, in Washington, D.C., was Jewish and was married to Mildred Stein, also Jewish, who died in 1997 after 61 years of marriage. He is the father of lawyer, author, and actor Ben Stein (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Win Ben Stein's Money) and writer Rachel Stein. Herbert Stein was also the original writer for the advice column Dear Prudence.


Stein was known as a pragmatic conservative and was referred to as "a liberal's conservative and a conservative's liberal." He was the author of The Fiscal Revolution in America.

In one article, Stein wrote that the people who wore an "Adam Smith necktie" did so to:

make a statement of their devotion to the idea of free markets and limited government. What stands out in [Smith's seminal work] Wealth of Nations, however, is that their patron saint was not pure or doctrinaire about this idea. He viewed government intervention in the market with great skepticism. He regarded his exposition of the virtues of the free market as his main contribution to policy, and the purpose for which his economic analysis was developed. Yet he was prepared to accept or propose qualifications to that policy in the specific cases where he judged that their net effect would be beneficial and would not undermine the basically free character of the system.[1]

In Stein's reading, The Wealth of Nations could justify the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, mandatory employer health benefits, environmentalism and "discriminatory taxation to deter improper or luxurious behavior."

Stein was the formulator of "Herbert Stein's Law," which he expressed as "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop," by which he meant that if a trend (balance of payments deficits in his example) cannot go on forever, there is no need for action or a program to make it stop, much less to make it stop immediately; it will stop of its own accord.[2] It is often rephrased as: "Trends that can't continue, won't."


  1. "Adam Smith Did Not Wear an Adam Smith Necktie, Wall Street Journal, April 6, 1994
  2. Herbert Stein (1997-05-16). "Herb Stein's Unfamiliar Quotations". Slate magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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Government offices
Preceded by
Paul McCracken
Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
Succeeded by
Alan Greenspan