Anna Schwartz, a research economist who worked with Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, died in her home Thursday at the age of 96. Despite a career crowned by the War and Peace of economic scholarship, the 900-page A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Schwartz was continually overshadowed by her collaborator, an unfortunate fact that leads one to ponder, "What the fuck, Nobel Committee?"
Though Schwartz was widely-known in the economics racket as the co-author of much of the work that landed Friedman his Nobel in 1976, nobody on the prize-dispensing committee thought it prudent to award the honor jointly to both Schwartz and Friedman. That's a shame because, according to the New York Times, Schwartz, who earned her Ph.D. in economics when she was 48, was crucial in helping Friedman figure out one of the root cause of the Great Depression — policy failures by the Federal Reserve. Schwartz was also considered the "high priestess of monetarism" — a school of economic thought that suggests the size and turnover of money supply largely determines the pace of inflation and economic bustle — by people who'd like to emphasize the fact that a) she's a lady and b) economics is some sort of mystical pagan religion.
Speaking at Friedman's 90th birthday party back in 2002, Ben Bernanke, fresh off of a soothing yet meticulous beard trim, issued a mea culpa on behalf of the Fed for totally inflaming the Great Depression. Said Bernanke, "I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression, you're right, we did it. We're very sorry, but thanks to you we won't do it again." Such a humbling apology, one of the many satisfying effects of a economics masterwork that even Friedman acknowledged owed most of its creation to his partner's work ethic, must have meant a lot to Schwartz. Probably not as much as a Nobel Prize, but still.
Six years after Bernanke had assured her that the Fed wouldn't ever screw up Depression-style again, the 93-year-old Schwartz took to the Times Op-Ed page, opposing Bernanke's reappointment as Fed chairman and criticizing him for both his "extreme ease" in monetary policy, as well as his failure to warn investors that financial instruments were tricky to price. Thus a brilliant and productive woman, whose long career was full of prescient insights about a 20th century American economy she'd experienced firsthand at bookends of economic disaster, leaves an indelible stamp on her profession, Nobel or no Nobel.