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James Tobin

            James Tobin studied economics and made it his career for two reasons. He found economics intellectually fascinating and challenging. He saw that economics offered hope that improved understanding could better the lot of mankind. Growing up in the 1930's, the two motivations reinforced each other. The miserable failures of capitalist economies in the Great Depression were root causes of worldwide social and political disasters. The depression also brought crisis for an economic orthodoxy unable either to explain events or prescribe remedies. The crisis triggered a fertile period of scientific ferment and revolution in economic theory. In 1936, at the start of his sophomore year, a young tutor at Harvard College, Spencer Pollard, suggested he read a new book by an English economist, J.M. Keynes. James Tobin became hooked on it. His mother, Margaret Edgerton Tobin, helped pave the way for James. She resumed her career after a sixteen-year interruption for marriage and family. She directed the family service agency of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, for the next quarter century. From her first-hand accounts James learned of the human suffering of unemployment and poverty. His father, Louis Michael Tobin, was the publicity director for University of Illinois athletics. James Tobin was born in Champaign in 1918. He went to the neighborhood elementary and intermediate schools, and then to the University High School in the twin city, Urbana. The school was operated by the university's College of Education primarily to give its students practical training in teaching. The master teachers who guided the trainees also gave them a marvelous education. The graduates number only 30 to 40 annually, but they would win many scholarships in national competition. Two alumni, Philip Anderson and Hamilton Smith, are Nobel laureates. Ironically, in 1981when James Tobin was awarded his Nobel Prize, he was confronted with news that the school might be closed for lack of funding.

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