By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 07, 2016
This week I want to talk about my friend Karl “Chip” Case and his greatness in the same way Rudyard Kipling talked about its manifestations in the following lines: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/ ‘Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch.” For the past thirty years I have walked with a king but did not know it. But then again, if I knew it, I may not have treated him as just another person.
I knew that Chip was a special person but did not quite understand the full impact of his greatness until I read the obituary, “Professor with a Prescience about ‘crazy’ house Prices” in the Financial Times, July 31, 2016. His obituary appeared in the New York Times; the Wall Street Journal; and the Boston Globe among other papers, but here it was, on this Saturday afternoon, accompanied by a rather youthful photograph of him staring at me as I lay in my friend’s flat in Chelsea, London.
It wasn’t until then I realized how influential “Chip” was in academia and international economics. I met Chip soon after I got to Wellesley College in 1986. One could not find a more easygoing person. I have often remarked that Chip was one person in whom no racism resided. This was always an important category for me.
Our friendship grew over the years. When I divorced my wife and didn’t have a cent, Chip bought me a 1984 Volvo and told me to pay him back on a monthly basis. When I needed support for the National Association for the Empowerment of African People, Chip contributed a few thousand dollars, and his wife Susan always urged him to give more. I stayed at Chip’s home for a year when things were bad with me financially and Chip never missed my annual Birthday Party.
If there is a stereotypical “Miss Wellesley,” then Chip was the stereotypical “Mr. Wellesley.” He never missed a Wellesley basketball game nor, for that matter, did he ever miss a Boston Celtics game for which he possessed season tickets. One of his proudest boasts is that he had recruited an excellent women’s basketball player from China for Wellesley. His home was open to all, regardless of race or class. It was something his wife supported.
But who was “Chip” Case, the academic, who made generosity such an important part of his fulfilling life. Together with Robert Shiller, the Yale professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2013 for his empirical analysis of asset prices, Chip devised the S&P/Case-Shiller index to chart the changes in property values throughout the United States. “Today,” Henry Sender reported, “the indices the pair created are the first pointers that economists use when assessing the health of the US housing market and are cited at every year-end for what the new year may bring” (FT, July 29).
When the recession hit the US in 2008, Chip and Shiller were ahead of the curve. In a jointly edited article for the Brookings Institute in 2003, they questioned whether the bubble in the US housing market was sustainable. They agreed that residential properties were overvalued. No one listened, not even the United States Federal Reserve Board. According to Shiller, “Our view was considered almost unpatriotic; not many people were saying that. We thought that there were psychologically irrational forces at work-and a lot of deception.”
Chip’s economics textbook, Principles of Microeconomics, is used in over 500 colleges and universities in the United States. When I was appointed as a director to the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, Chip copied the chapter on central banking and gave it to me. Although many people, including my friend Sat, saw my appointment as an anomaly, many persons did not know I had studied economics as an undergraduate and a graduate student.
Three years ago Chip became violently ill. To his Parkinson Disease was the added complication of multiple myeloma. I saw him often during his illness but urged by a compelling spiritual force, I saw him a few days before I left for London around the middle of June. He did not seem particularly distressed. We talked for a while but then he had to take his medicine and needed a rest.
I hugged him as I usually did, called him brother, and took my departure, not really knowing that it would be the last time I would see him alive. A month later he was dead.
Chip achieved much during his life but never lost the common touch. He was truly a brother and a friend. I give thanks to all the Powers that Be for allowing me to share in such an important life-giving friendship.