James M. Boughton
Former Professor, Indiana University
Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation
How could I even have had a career without help from Elmus Wicker? In 1970, IU was my first tenure-track job, and Wick quickly became a mentor to me, as he did for so many students and young faculty. That year, he offered to team-teach Money and Banking with me and Mike Klein. We had a lot of fun, I learned a great deal, and soon Wick and I began writing a textbook together ( The Principles of Monetary Economics, Richard D. Irwin, 1975). As mentor, co-author, and vigorous advocate to the university bureaucracy, he was there for me at every stage as I crept unsteadily and uncertainly up the ladder to full Professor over the next decade. And when the climb was over, even though I left Bloomington to pursue a different life in Washington, he remained a great friend throughout the rest of his long and happy life.
When we celebrate his life, we most obviously celebrate the remarkable series of books and articles that he wrote over the course of some forty years, mostly on the history of the Federal Reserve System and of banking panics. His dedication to work was awesome to witness. When he was researching the history of the Fed in the 1960s and 1970s, the lengthy minutes of the Open Market Committee were available, but only on microfilm. Wick acquired a set of the films along with a reading machine that he set up in his basement office at home. He probably was the only person who ever read them that way from beginning to end. When he and I set out to research the behavior of the currency-deposit ratio in the Great Depression, he spent countless hours poring through the newspapers of the 1930s to find out what interest rates banks had offered on deposit balances and what it cost in postage to pay bills by check instead of cash. And he was the senior author! Others would more likely have passed down such tasks to their junior colleagues such as me.
Less obviously but no less importantly, we should celebrate Wick's achievements as a teacher. Especially in the later years of his long tenure at IU, he was not always the most popular teacher, but that was because he was among the most demanding. He had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he had studied under the great economist Sir John Hicks. He had seen how the Oxford tutorial system demanded and elicited hard work and excellence from its students, and he tried mightily to copy that formula at IU. He had some success, establishing the honors program in the Economics Department and winning the Standard Oil award for excellence in teaching. As the years went by, the average student found it ever harder to keep up with Wick's demands, but he never relaxed his standards or his efforts to pry performance even from the most reluctant. In many cases, it was only after graduation that his students were able to appreciate what he had brought forth from them.
It was a grand life, well lived.