Among the most interesting people I have known, a disproportionate number have unusual backgrounds and unusual life stories. Jerry Scully was one of them.
He once told me that most of the people he grew up with were either dead or in jail. On a stint in Afghanistan, he once got in a fire fight with rebel gangs who, given the chance, would have dismembered him. At one point he dropped out of academic life, bought a boat and spent a year or so sailing around the Caribbean.
He had a great deal of influence on me and on the NCPA throughout our 25 years of existence. Were I in a position to award Nobel Prizes, I would have given Jerry one of them.
Jerry was one of the most prolific, innovative and imaginative economists of our age. One of the most fundamental building blocks of economics is the idea of "marginal product." Jerry was the first economist to ever measure one. He did it in, of all places, baseball.
He pioneered sports economics and went on to make many contributions in other fields. One of his most important contributions was the "Scully Curve." Jerry showed that the size of government can contribute to economic growth in a nation's early stages, but at some point, the size of government becomes a burden – reducing the rate of growth and causing national income to be lower than it otherwise would be.
In Jerry's estimate, the optimal size of government is about 21% of national income. Since all developed countries are above this level, they all are making huge sacrifices in terms of lost income and economic well being – making even low income families worse off than they otherwise would have been.
He had a great mind. He was a great economist. A dear friend. We will miss him.