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Mike Mussa (1944–2012): Serenading the IMF Board

by | January 17th, 2012 | 03:32 pm
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I first met Mike Mussa in 1976 when we were both at the London School of Economics—he was visiting from Chicago for a year. His brilliance and sense of humor were clearly evident then, and only became sharper over the course of time. Later, in 1991, he became my boss in the Research Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when he joined as the Director and Economic Counsellor. Up close he was an amazing intellect. You could go to him with any question or problem, big or small, and he would always have an answer or solution, even in areas of economics he wasn’t all that familiar with. And most of the time he was right! He just had that way of immediately recognizing the issue and using his superb analytical skills to address it.

Adjustment to the straitlaced bureaucracy of the IMF is not easy for an academic coming in, but Mike challenged the rules and procedures both substantively and with humor. On the latter, two particular incidents come to mind. Once I was with Mike going to an Executive Board meeting at which he was making a presentation. Mike was dressed in plaid pants, Madras jacket, and a red bow tie. When I asked him about his attire (everyone in the boardroom was always in dark suits), Mike said: “The Board sees me as a clown, so I might as well dress like one.” A second first, again in the IMF board, was on St. Patrick’s Day. Mike asked for the floor and then proceeded to sing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” to the Irish director in honor of the day. The chair (I think it was Stanley Fischer) sat in stunned silence and bemusement, but when Mike ended there was widespread laughter and applause. No one had sung at the board before, and I’m sure no one has ever since. I sometimes wonder what the minutes of that board meeting were like.

Losing Mike is losing a dear friend, adviser, and mentor. He will always be remembered.

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