C. Lowell Harriss (1912-2009)


C. Lowell Harriss, an economist whose groundbreaking theories on land tax reform led to a widening of public spaces and improved quality of life in domestic and international urban and rural areas, died on December 14, 2009 at his home in Bronxville, N.Y. He was 97.

He died from natural causes.

An author of 16 books on economics and hundreds of articles, Professor Harriss was one of the last living economists to experience the Depression. He was known for his seminal work on taxation of land, property tax, finance reform, land values and planning land use.

He was a professor emeritus of economics at Columbia University, where he taught for 43 years, from 1938 to 1981. He also taught at Stanford University, UC-Berkeley, Yale, Princeton, The Wharton School, the New School for Social Research and Pace University. He earned Fulbright professorships from the Netherlands School of Economics (now Erasmus University), Cambridge University, and the University of Strasbourg, France.

His professional interests beyond education were extensive, including: Executive Director of The Academy of Political Science; President, National Tax Association-Tax Institute of America; Vice President, International Institute of Public Finance; Chairman, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, Inc.; Trustee, American Institute for Economic Research; Advisory Member, American Enterprise Institute; Academic Advisor, Center for the Study of the Presidency; and Advisor, Thomas Jefferson Research Center. He was a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and a board member of the American Institute of Economic Research in Cambridge, both institutions that serve as leading resources for policy makers and practitioners including the use, regulation and taxation of land.

He advised state, federal and foreign governments on tax policy including the U.S. Department of Treasury; the City of New York; New York State; the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; the Federal District of Venezuela; the Ministry of Finance, Republic of China; the United Nations; and the Agency of International Development of the U.S. Department of State.

In addition to his academic and professional pursuits and achievements, Professor Harriss was well known for his great respect of the role that humor has in making daily life enjoyable and more civilized. He often said that "a smile costs nothing." He was known for his frequent compilations of cartoons, which he distributed in his mailings to colleagues and friends. As he said, "they get people's attention".

Clement Lowell Harriss was born Aug. 2, 1912, in Fairbury, Nebraska. He attended Harvard College and graduated summa cum laude in 1934. Upon graduation, he received a Sheldon Fellowship which enabled him to travel for 13 months throughout Europe, the Balkans, Turkey and Northern Africa, before arriving in Berlin the day Hitler assumed the presidency. This experience was the beginning of a lifetime of travel that would take him around the world nine times and stimulate his academic and personal curiosity and inquiry.

Professor Harriss met and married Agnes Bennett Murphy in 1936. While pursuing graduate studies at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, he began his teaching career in 1938 at and received his Ph.D. in 1940 from Columbia University.

Professor Harriss served as an officer in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946, working on aircraft and manpower procurement, later on the economic problems of the shift of fighting to the Pacific, and finally, on the problems of economic demobilization and the postwar aircraft industry.

He is the namesake of the C. Lowell Harriss Scholarship at Columbia College, the C. Lowell Harriss Chair of Economics at Columbia University, and the Professor C. Lowell Harriss Scholarship at the School of General Studies at Columbia University. In 1996 he accepted the Nobel Prize in Economics on behalf of long-time Columbia colleague William Vickrey, who had died shortly before the ceremony.

He is survived by his sister, Marion Engelhart, of Gross Pointe, Michigan, his four children, L. Gordon Harriss, of Bronxville, New York; Patricia Harriss, of Bronxville, New York, Martha Harriss, of New York, and Brian Harriss, of Greenwich, Connecticut, five grandchildren, and by his two daughters in law, Elizabeth Harriss, Bronxville, New York, and Lucinda Harriss, Greenwich, Connecticut. His wife died in 1992.