Francis Bator, Influential White House Economist, Dies at 92


His 1957 article “The Simple Analytics of Welfare Maximization” became a standard tool for teaching microeconomics, or the economic impact of individual decision-making.

In 1966, as deputy special assistant to the president for national security affairs under Mr. Rostow, Professor Bator drafted an early version of the speech that Johnson delivered to editorial writers in New York in which he signaled a shift from coexistence to “peaceful engagement” with the Soviet bloc.

In addition to easing trade constraints and cultural exchanges, Johnson held out the prospect of mutual military reductions if Cold War relations between East and West thawed.

At the same time, while he unequivocally affirmed American support for NATO, Johnson sought to promote unity among the Western allies by deliberately ignoring President Charles de Gaulle’s decision less than four months before to withdraw French troops from the treaty organization’s integrated command.

When Professor Bator left the administration, where his portfolio included monetary policy, tariffs and curbing nuclear proliferation, The Economist wrote: “On most of these matters most of the time, a thread of lucidity, consistency and balance has been traceable in the administration’s handling, and Mr. Bator has had a lot to do with it.”

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Mr. Bator in 1979. He warned of a coming world split between a rich minority and an enormous majority of semi-industrialized poor.

Credit
Fredrick Bodin/Harvard Kennedy School

Francis Michel Bator was born on Aug. 10, 1925, in Budapest. He fled to the United States with his family in 1939 as the pro-fascist Hungarian government edged closer to Nazi Germany.

In New York, his father, Victor, was a banker, writer, teacher and publisher of a newspaper for Hungarian expatriates. His mother was the former Franciska Sichermann.

Francis Bator was being shipped to the Pacific as an Army infantry officer when Japan surrendered in 1945.

He considered majoring in literature in college, but switched to economics and earned a bachelor of science degree in 1949 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he later received a doctorate in economics.

He and his wife, the former Micheline Martin, separated in 1972. In addition to her and their son, he is survived by their daughter, Nina Bator Moss; his partner, Jae Roosevelt; and four grandchildren.

His 1960 book, “The Question of Government Spending,” was described by The New York Times as one of the seven that shaped President John F. Kennedy’s approach to the presidency.

Professor Bator was an adviser to the Agency for International Development, then moved to the White House early in 1964 to work for Mr. Bundy, Johnson’s national security adviser.

While Professor Bator was opposed to widening the Vietnam War, he later ardently defended, or at least sought to clarify, Johnson’s rationale for doing so.

“The war deprived the Great Society reforms of some executive energy and money,” he wrote in a paper for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.

“But Johnson believed — and he knew how to count votes — that had he backed away in Vietnam in 1965, there would have been no Great Society to deprive,” Professor Bator added. “It would have been stillborn in Congress.”

Shortly after he left the administration, in part because of his opposition to the protracted war, he issued a warning.

“The real nightmare for all of us,” he told The Boston Globe, “not over the next few years but over the next 25, consists in a world split between a rich minority and an enormous majority of semi-industrialized poor — colored, angry and equipped with modern strategic arms.”

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