He had also, fascinatingly, used data to draw conclusions about pain and happiness. Unemployment, he discovered, caused more than just emotional distress. Men looking for work reported physical pain and took more painkillers. As for happiness, one of the best ways to increase it, according to his analysis of survey data, was to spend time with friends. He often postponed his weekend fatigue to attend social gatherings which he was tempted to skip.
I approached him in late 2014 while working on a book about America’s obsession with getting into elite colleges like Princeton, where, as it happened, I had been a visiting professor that spring. . Krueger and mathematician Stacy Dale had calculated the economic benefits of having attended such a college, and they had determined that it was overrated. Krueger’s email address was public, so I wrote to him asking if he could chat with me on the phone about this research. I mentioned, as an icebreaker and a means of persuasion, my short-lived professorship at Princeton.
He responded quickly, saying, “You can teach in my class anytime!” He would be happy to discuss his research, he said, but apologized for not being able to do so at the time because he was in Italy, and after Italy he would be bound for a few days with events surrounding her daughter’s college graduation. . “Can we talk Wednesday or Thursday of next week? ” He asked. “Or is it too late? I had the distinct impression that if I had said I couldn’t wait, he would have found a way to accommodate me sooner, let alone Italy, let alone graduation.
The following Wednesday suited me. We spoke then, and he couldn’t have been more polite, nicer, more patient, more wonderful. His words got into my book, and the book was published the following year, and whenever I saw Krueger’s name in the news – which I often did because he was so generous with reporters – I had a warm feeling; I even had a little crush on him. The photographs that sometimes accompanied mentions of him revealed that he was handsome in addition to bright and kind. Some people had everything.
Upon Krueger’s death, Obama released a statement, remembering him as a man with “a perpetual smile and a gentle spirit – even when he corrected you”. Times Opinion columnist Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who taught with Krueger at Princeton, wrote: “I knew Alan quite well and never saw the slightest hint that something like this might to arrive.
And in a sequence of tweets, Betsey Stevenson, who rotated on the Council of Economic Advisers when Krueger left, referenced her pain research. “Now I know he was in pain too, perhaps channeling his own pain into thinking about the pain of others,” she wrote.
“The truth,” she added, “is that we all have more pain than the world generally knows.”
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