George Borts, 1927-2014

George H. Borts, 86, a distinguished economist, writer and editor, died May 2 in Providence.

Professor Borts was born in New York City on Aug. 29, 1927, and educated at Columbia University, where he earned an undergraduate degree at 19 and worked on the student newspaper, The Spectator. He received both his master’s degree (1949) and Ph.D. (1953) from the University of Chicago, where he studied under Milton Friedman, the famed libertarian economist – an experience that profoundly influenced his thinking about economics and other aspects of society for the rest of his life.

Professor Borts spent 63 years at Brown University, where he joined the Department of Economics in 1950 at 23. During his long and distinguished career, he served as chairman of the Department of Economics at Brown and led its rise to prominence as one of the leading departments of economic teaching and research. He was also the managing editor of one of the economics profession’s pre-eminent journals, the American Economic Review, for more than 10 years.

His career gave him the opportunity for travel, research and other learning as a visiting professor/research fellow at Hokkaido University, the London School of Economics and the National Bureau of Economic Research. He retired last year as the George S. and Nancy B. Parker Professor Emeritus of Economics.

Professor Borts was an expert in international finance, industrial organization, regulation and transportation. His legacy as an economist includes not only his books and dozens of scholarly papers, but the many lives he touched as a colleague, teacher, friend and adviser. Over more than six decades at Brown, George Borts had instructed and mentored thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. He supervised dozens of senior theses and doctoral dissertations and until last year, he was teaching undergraduate courses on international finance and on the welfare state in America, as well as leading several independent studies on a variety of topics.

His intellectual curiosity and professional interests allowed him to analyze complicated issues without pre-judgment. He led discussions about political, economic and social issues in ways that were clear and engaging for undergraduate seminars and senior colleagues alike. Generations of Brown students, economics majors and non-majors alike, discovered the intellectual creativity of economics through his classes.

His interest in promoting excellence in education was also demonstrated by his leadership of Brown’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter for many years.

He gave frequent testimony before U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies and commissions and served on many boards, including those of the Rhode Island School of Design, Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School of Business, Rhode Island Blue Shield, Junior Achievement of Rhode Island and Temple Beth-El in Providence. And he advised political candidates of both parties on economic and tax policy and provided commentaries for The Providence Journal. In 1990-91 he was the editor of the Brown World Business Advisory.

The managing editor of that publication, who became The Providence Journal’s editorial-page editor, Robert Whitcomb, called Professor Borts a “joy to work with’’ over the two decades of their occasional projects together. “He combined intellectual rigor with great humor and congeniality, including when we didn’t agree on a specific issue. I particularly enjoyed his often amusing application of the law of unintended consequences to many societal situations at our numerous pleasant meals together.’’

Although he was a tireless advocate of the free market, he viewed political issues through an economic lens that was fair and open-minded. He valued greatly his relationships with both Keynesian and Monetarist economists. His closest personal relationships were with such prominent advocates of alternative points of view as Hyman Minsky, Phillip Taft, and Jerome Stein. Further evidence of this non-ideological approach was his pronounced belief in the need for immigration reform.

He is survived by Dolly, his wife of 65 years, three sons, three grandchildren and many friends and admirers around America and beyond.