Gerald Scully R.I.P.

Gerald Scully 
1941 – 2009 

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.

See all NCPA publications by Gerald W. Scully.

Comments (26)

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  1. Joe Barnett says:

    As the above-list of studies by Jerry Scully indicates, his association with the NCPA goes back to the early 1980s. Many of his policy-oriented articles began as academic studies that were eventually published in Public Choice and other well-regarded professional journals.

    The question of the proper role and size of government was an overarching theme of his research — whether measuring the growth-maximizing size of government or showing the empirical and objective relationship between economic freedom and growth.

    Importantly, although he was never willing to “dumd-down” his ideas for popular consumption, he understood the importance of communicating economic concepts to policy makers and the general public. Thus, his interest in think tanks as means to reach wider audiences, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

    Joe Barnett
    Director of Policy Research

  2. Dwight R. Lee says:

    I met Jerry only a few times. The first was after I had given a talk in a program John Baden had organized in Montana. After the talk Jerry came up, introduced himself, and gently pointed out that the point I had made had some some interesting implications that I hadn’t mentioned. Of course the reason I hadn’t mentioned them is because I hadn’t thought of them. Jerry was nice enough not to mention that possibility. I also remember being quite impressed later when talking to Jerry, and I mentioned that my son having learned to speak and write Japanese. A little later someone who had over heard our conversation told me that as a young man Jerry had learned to speak and write at least one (Cantonese or Manderin) of the Chinese languages. Jerry was one impressive individual.

  3. Bruce says:

    It’s a great loss.

  4. Mark Skousen says:


    A giant has died! I'm very sorry to hear about Jerry Scully's passing. I didn't know he was sick. Didn't I meet him at the APEE meetings? I thought I did, and we talked about the Scully Curve. I'll give him credit for this curve in "Economic Logic," instead of Dick Armey!

    We name our rooms each year at FreedomFest after fallen patriots. I'm thinking of naming one of them after Jerry.

  5. John Baden says:

    Dear Mr. Weber, (obit editor of NYT)

    This is a letter from Montana asking you to consider publishing an obituary for a Texan, Prof. Gerald Scully. The Times is nearly the only paper he considered worthwhile.

    He was a highly creative, internationally respected economist. Scully published in the best journals pioneering sports economics and international comparisons on the quality of life. Most unusual for an academic, he was loyal to friends under fire.

    Gerry was a classical liberal in the best tradition and deserves to be remembered. I urge you to honor his memory in the paper he most respected.

    John Baden

  6. Dorman Cordell says:

    As you know, I worked with Jerry on a number of studies. He was a somewhat unconventional guy, with some unconventional but brilliant economic insights. You often predicted that he would win a Nobel eventually, but cancer took him prematurely.

  7. Gerry Musgrave says:

    He had a unique understanding of both academic and practitioners views of how markets work. He could see through the details that confused some. He could also account for the details that others omitted. His exceptional ability to distinguish which details confuse and which clarify will be missed.

  8. Grace-Marie Turner says:


    this is a lovely tribute to Jerry Scully. His wisdom and research about the appropriate size of government, especially his work showing that the optimal size of government is about 21% of national income, is more important now than ever. Not only are all developed countries above that level, as you point out, but the United States is going absolutely in the wrong direction in expanding government to levels that will surely lead to a loss of economic vitality, much lower standards of living, and fewer resources to take care of the least fortunate.

  9. Alberto B. Lynch says:

    Thank you John. I am very sorry.

  10. Thomas R. Saving says:


    Jerry was a long-time friend and it is sad when friends die so young.

  11. Hasan Pirkul says:


    Thanks for letting me know. I am deeply saddened by this news. I too had great respect and admiration for Jerry. He has made significant contributions to our School. I will always remember him fondly.

  12. Roberto Salinas Price says:

    Perhaps the following may help assuage our loss:

    “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, Meditation XVII.

  13. Richard Vedder says:

    I had a role in hiring Jerry for his first teaching job in 1966 at Ohio University. We were colleagues for three years. Jerry came to OU as a committed member of the New Left –he hated the Viet-Nam War and generally endorsed all left-wing causes, and dressed like the typical flower child –long beard, scruffy clothes, etc.

    Jerry’s transformation (intellectual as well as sartorial) over the years was amazing, for two reasons. First, he was bright. Second, he was honest. As he ran regressions (helped a lot by our mutual colleague Lowell Gallaway), he kept getting results showing that market signals were a powerful and positive tool for economic change. Markets work, and, by implication, non-market solutions often do not.

    Jerry’s work on the optimal size of government is, indeed, important, and his work (and that of others like Jim Gwartney, myself, etc.) has provided an empirical and intellectual basis to attack the statism of modern times. Jim Gwartney and I once met with President Putin of Russia on the basis of the “optimal size of government” work which folks like Jerry and ourselves performed. Hopefully, the fruits of Jerry’s labor will eventually lead to positive actions to reverse the relentless non-optimal governmental growth.

  14. Jim Dorn (Cato) says:

    I’m very sad to learn of Jerry’s passing. He was a very interesting person, fine economist, lover of freedom, and fun to chat with. He will be greatly missed.

    Jim Dorn
    Cato Institute

  15. Douglas Newby says:

    Jerry Scully was first and foremost a gentleman. And what an unlikely gentleman – an iconoclast from a rich background of adventures, a libertarian who looked at freedom in a profound way, a creative genius who like an artist looked in places where no one else had gone. Incredibly self-confident with an uncanny ear for new information and new ideas that is lost for most people in the noise.

    Jerry Scully was on my theses review committee when I was finishing a master’s in public administration. SMU faculty on this committee were drawn from the Political Science Department, Real Estate Department, and the Department of Economics of which Jerry Scully was a professor. I was incredibly impressed with his comments, suggestions and interest in this paper Economic Incentives to Reverse Migration in an Inner City Neighborhood. Gerald Scully was the only professor to grasp the counterintuitive argument that if critical mass of property owners uniformly gave up future apartment development rights, their existing single-family or apartment structures would go up in value.

    Subsequently, we became friends, neighbors, Jerry became a client and even for a while a tenant of mine. I recall discounting rent on a short term residence for his incredible tutorials on economics. It was during this time I received stacks of information on the NCPA. He always spoke with great admiration for John Goodman and the importance of the NCPA. I have been avidly interested in and a supporter of the NCPA ever since he recommended the National Center for Policy Analysis as the most thoughtful think tank in the country.

    I will always be grateful for this introduction, his great work, his kind mentoring and friendship. He made the world a better place on my levels and he did it in an entertaining way.

  16. andy weintraub says:

    All of the above.

    Jerry and I were fellow graduate students at Rutgers in the early sixties. At that time it was obvious that this confident, ingenious young man would amount to something. I was there at the beginning when one day he came into my office and showed me an article he’d just read by Simon Rottenberg on The Economics of Major League Baseball.

  17. Carter Murphy says:

    Thanks for your blog in memoriam to Gerry Scully. As you will remember, Gerry came to the economics department at SMU in the mid- to late-1960s and stayed four or five years before leaving to sail the Carribbean. He was researching Sports Economics at that time and was an irrepressible catalyst for ideas throughout the department. He had a serious accident while driving a sports car, but this didn’t long prevent him from teaching his classes and good naturedly provoking his colleagues. I admired him greatly in those years, for his brilliant mind and his what-the-hell approach to life, and was deeply disappointed when he insisted on leaving academia and going to sea in his sailboat.
    I am saddened by news of his death. A little bit of the best of me dies with him.

    Carter Murphy

  18. Daniel Slottje says:

    Dear Mr. Weber:

    I am writing you regarding the passing of Professor Gerald Scully. Professor Scully was a unique individual and a maverick. As an example, he was a truly classical libertarian who adored the NY Times. His work in the field of applied economics has influenced generations in at least three distinct fields. Thousands upon thousands of students suffered through microeconomics principle classes where they are forced to learn about “marginal productivity” and the “marginal productivity of labor.” Jerry was the first economist to understand that there is real world data, where the concept could be operationalized, in baseball!! Jerry’s work was published in the American Economic Review and labor economists from that day forward were grateful and grasped Jerry’s creativity, sports data gives us real world data on quantifying productivity, and the field of sports economics married to labor economics has thrived ever since. When the baseball strikes occurred, Ted Kopel talked to Jerry, his work on the business of baseball (published by the University of Chicago Press) remains a classic.

    Professor Scully did equally path breaking work in the field of measuring economic liberty. Milton Friedman long ago noted the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom, but once again, Jerry was the first to actually quantify what the notion meant and then ranked countries to see how they stacked up. His work has been used by economists the world over including those at the World Bank and United Nations.

    Finally, Jerry’s work on the size of government and the implications of the scope of government for economic growth is an area that continues to be timely and important as we head to unprecedented unchartered waters on this topic. Jerry understood that there are costs and benefits to government growth and all these costs should be carefully considered when opening up the public checkbook. Jerry’s work was published in the best journals in his field, including the Journal of Political Economy and Public Choice.

    The world has lost a brilliant thinker, a lovely man (he mellowed a lot over the years) and a significant contributor to the dismal science. I hope the NY Times will make note of his passing.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.


    Daniel Slottje
    Professor of Economics, SMU
    Dallas, TX

  19. Carl-Johan Westholm says:

    Thanks for the sad info. You wrote a kind, memorable piece about this memorable man.

  20. Robert Brown says:

    I met Gerry on the golf course. We passed many hours trying to make sense of the little round ball. Many laughs. I would goad Gerry to send me his latest writing and always learned from them. We had been talking about a new research project regarding Argentina’s demise under Peron and any parallels to the current administration. Would have been an interesting piece. We miss his comradship on the course.

  21. David J Farr says:

    I enjoyed playing golf with Jerry. It was fun talking economics with him and getting his view on our current challenges. Very inciteful and intelligent. Also a good golfer. He was very particular about the etiquitte of golf and the skills required. I learned a lot of both from him in the past year. Very sorry to hear of his passing and would with his family my prayerful regards. Dave Farr

  22. […] is David Henderson’s write-up at the Library of Economics and Liberty. Here is a piece by John Goodman. Here is a piece at Marginal Revolution. Here is Scully’s write up on the economics and […]

  23. Deirdre Scully Grant says:

    I received the news of my fathers death via a letter on May 14th. I only got to spend a very few early precious years with him but I lost him to his love and genius of economics. I am very pleased to see that he had a great many friends, I wish I could have met many of you. Some of my fondest memories were fighting some of his theories. His idea of babysitting me was leaving me at Ohio State and SMU in the computer room and in his library to read his books; The Journal of Economics. I was three year to seven years of age. He said “don’t worry it’ll sink in later”. It did, however he didn’t like being argued with. As regards to Milton Friedman; the one loophole I liked to exploit was “Dad..what about corruption?? It is an inherent flaw in the system”. Lord!! What did I know at 18!! And then Lehman Brothers failed and so on. Although I did not get to know my father well and I missed him everyday of my life; he gave me the idea to add psychology to my economic studies starting 25 years ago. I recently read a book called Animal Spirts by Shiller and Akerlof where the field of economics just might become receptive to behavioral economists but I remain dubious. In the meanwhile, I use the combination to do well in the marketplace! If there was any one who was on the trip to Iran with us in the 70’s I’d love to here from you and your stories. Deirdre Scully Grant

  24. tom borcherding says:

    I just found the said news about Jerry Scully. It was hidden in my “spam” file.

    Jerry was not spam, but muscle and sinew. He had a wry sense of humor and a mind that did not embrace the commonly held or banal. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, and I was mentioning him the other day to a grad student doing his thesis on hockey players’ salaries. So sadly I will have to tell this chap that trying to get hold of Jerry won’t be possible.

    I hope in the Elysian Fields Jerry is giving it to all the statists and bores, while delighting those who love freedom and free minds.

    RIP Jerry Scully.

    Tom Borcherding
    Claremont Graduate University

  25. Dr. Patrick Caragata says:

    I only learned of Jerry’s passing today (July 27, 2009) and find it hard to believe he is gone. He was a larger than life character with a wicked sense of politically incorrect humor, too often a scarce commodity these days. I first contacted Jerry in 1993 after reading his NCPA paper on the optimal size of government. I was working in New Zealand as Chief Tax Policy Adviser of the Inland Revenue Department. I had a mandate to write a report on the health of the tax system in NZ, a study of the economic and compliance consequences of taxation and decided I wanted to take an econometric approach to measuring the empirical effects of tax. I asked Jerry if he would be interested in working with us. He enthusiastically agreed and later helped recruit his friend, Professor Knox Lovell (U. Georgia at Athens). I also brought in Professor David Giles at the University of Victoria in Canada, and Professors Richard Bird and Jack Mintz at the University of Toronto, my alma mater. Jerry and Knox later helped to recruit Professor Irwin Diewert of the University of British Columbia, while Richard Bird helped us add Alan Auerbach (UC Berkley) and Sijbren Cnossen (University of Maastricht)who reviewed our work. This was a Tom Sawyer white picket fence exercise with only small amounts of money being paid. The attractions were the freedom to publish whatever we discovered, something I had written into my contract, the great adventure exploring some new frontiers and the comradeship on the journey. It was a powerful team of professionals who helped ensure the success of this unique undertaking, and despite being a strong individualist, Jerry fit in perfectly. Jerry regularly flew down to NZ and became instrumental in helping drive our 7 workshops over almost 4 years, 34 working papers, many articles and 3 books, including Taxation and the Limits of Government, which Jerry and I edited and published with Kluwer in 2000. The debate created by that work has lasted for years, and our two Kluwer/Springer books, including my own on the Report on the Health of the Tax System: The Economic and Compliance Consequences of Taxation) are still in print. In 1999,Jerry traveled twice to, and worked with Dr. Adolf Stroombergen and myself in, Denmark, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, helping the latter restructure its economy. The trip introduced us to whale blubber, puffin, pilot whales, the wonderful Faroese culture, and more hot-springs (Iceland) than we saw in Rotorua, NZ, one of Jerry favorite spots. I have some great pictures from the Faroes and Iceland if anyone is interested. During the months and years that I worked and traveled with Jerry I was deeply impressed with his brilliance, his scholarship and his incredible sense of humor. He was always a great intellectual companion and considerate friend. Too many stories to relate here. He always told me how much he loved his daughters despite his absences, and how proud he was of them. My friends, Rex Moore and Dr. Stokes Taylor and I were the ones that introduced Jerry to golf in New Zealand in 1994, which he took up with a passion in the last 15 years of life. He became a scratch golfer. I still play with a Ping set he sold me when he upgraded. And I am pleased to see that he was a stickler for golf rules in the US because with us in NZ he was always asking for mulligans. He was always determined to be the best at whatever he tried. Jerry’s work on labor economics, sports economics, freedom and growth, and the optimal level of tax and government will inspire many generations after him. He was an inspiration for us but he also learned from us. I am grateful we had a chance to meet and work together. He will be missed by all of us. He was a great man and a true libertarian.

    Dr. Patrick Caragata
    Founder and Executive Vice Chairman
    Rapid Ratings International (New York)
    residing in Brisbane, Australia

  26. Dr. Stokes Taylor says:

    Patrick took us to lunch at Fishermans Table overlooking the T.asman Sea when Jerry arrived. Jerry owened the ranch next to DH Lawrence’s and I consulted in Taos at Sangre de Cristo seeing non-english speaking geriatric psychiatric patients thou by profession am a child psychiatrist.We had alot of fun;Jerry n I had 2 beers n Patrick 1, Jerry smoked 2 cuban cigars on our beach walk. We then went to Kapiti ice Cream up the coast which is marvelous and award winning. He promptly announced “i want the ice cream with the highest butterfat content”, turned to me and said ‘Stokes, when you stop, you die”. He was a great friend and a great Libertarian. Just wish I could have accecpted the many invitations to stay and play golf in conjunction with conferences near San Diego when he stopped coming to NZ. A friend to my economist sons and maverick lawyer Paul with whom I treated to a dozen fried bluff oysters and monteiths beer which he loved. NZ will miss his fun and piercing intellect.