"An Illustrated Guide to the American Economy" is aimed at those seeking to make sense of economic news or - more important - to place it in a broader context. The book consists of straightforward, objective statements about the United States, each one explained in a page of text accompanied by a page of bold, four-colour charts. Too often we lack the basic facts we need to understand and judge what we learn about the US economy. Listening to TV or reading newspapers raises questions such as: how rich is the American economy compared with other times and other countries? And what is happening to the relative earnings of women or blacks compared with white males? How heavy are American tax burdens today compared with earliers times and other countries?
Herbert Stein (1916 – 1999) was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and was on the board of contributors of The Wall Street Journal. He was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. From 1974 until 1984, he was the A. Willis Robertson Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia.
Stein was known as a pragmatic conservative and was referred to as "a liberal's conservative and a conservative's liberal." He was the author of The Fiscal Revolution in America.
In one article, Stein wrote that the people who wore an "Adam Smith necktie" did so to:
make a statement of their devotion to the idea of free markets and limited government. What stands out in [Smith's seminal work] Wealth of Nations, however, is that their patron saint was not pure or doctrinaire about this idea. He viewed government intervention in the market with great skepticism. He regarded his exposition of the virtues of the free market as his main contribution to policy, and the purpose for which his economic analysis was developed. Yet he was prepared to accept or propose qualifications to that policy in the specific cases where he judged that their net effect would be beneficial and would not undermine the basically free character of the system.
In Stein's reading, The Wealth of Nations could justify the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, mandatory employer health benefits, environmentalism and "discriminatory taxation to deter improper or luxurious behavior."
Stein was the formulator of "Herbert Stein's Law," which he expressed as "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop," by which he meant that if a trend (balance of payments deficits in his example) cannot go on forever, there is no need for action or a program to make it stop, much less to make it stop immediately; it will stop of its own accord. It is often rephrased as: "Trends that can't continue, won't."
Murray F. Fos (1918 – 2014) joined AEI as a visiting scholar in 1979 after having served as senior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers (1975-78) and as a researcher at the Bureau of Economic Analysis (1969-75), where he edited the highly regarded “Survey of Current Business.” He worked at AEI until his retirement in 2003. He made many contributions to the field of economics, particularly in the areas of price measurement and productivity. With his great friend the AEI economist Herbert Stein, he was coauthor of one of AEI’s most popular volumes “The Illustrated Guide to the American Economy.”