A Visionary Leader: PIIE Mourns the Passing of its Founding Chairman

RealTime Economic Issues Editor (PIIE)

March 20, 2018 10:45 AM
Photo Credit: 
PIIE/Kaveh Sardari

The Peterson Institute for International Economics mourns the passing of its founding chairman, Peter George Peterson, who died March 20, 2018, at the age of 91. In a career of public service spanning more than five decades, Pete Peterson was a tireless champion of intellectually honest and rigorous, nonpartisan research and advocacy on international economic issues, the values pursued by the Peterson Institute since its founding more than three and a half decades ago.

Pete Peterson began his formal public service as assistant to the president for International Economic Affairs in the Nixon White House, and then served as Secretary of Commerce. He was a major figure in the development of modern finance in New York, including leadership roles at Lehman Brothers and Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb, before cofounding the Blackstone Group in 1985. He remained committed to public education and debate throughout his career, authoring five books on economic policy issues, as well as a critically acclaimed memoir The Education of an American Dreamer, and dedicating the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to public policy and voter education.

In 1981, Pete cofounded the Institute for International Economics and served as its Chair of the Board of Directors from its beginnings until his passing. In 2006, the Institute celebrated its 25th anniversary with the successful completion of a capital campaign and was renamed the Peterson Institute for International Economics in honor of Pete's unstinting support and longstanding leadership. Many other philanthropic causes and institutions drew the driving leadership of Pete Peterson, but he often spoke of the Peterson Institute as one of his proudest accomplishments. In 2006, he wrote that he was "immediately excited" about the idea of creating an institute in 1981. "As I look back over the first 25 years of the Institute, I take great satisfaction from the fact that our original design turned out so well…. I have had a rather checkered career over the past several decades and seem to have been unable to hold on to any one job for very long. During much of that period, however, one constant, and one of my great pride and joys, is the Institute for International Economics. I could not have imagined, in my wildest dreams, that it would have been this successful."

Following Pete Peterson's passing, Adam S. Posen, president of the Peterson Institute, said: "For us at the Peterson Institute, Pete was an ongoing part of our life and work. He was our institutional backbone, a visionary leader who co-created the Institute with C. Fred Bergsten and Anthony M. Solomon in 1981, when the importance of the international economy to the United States was just being recognized. Pete both made possible the independent pursuit of our mission and held us to the highest standards in that pursuit. He wanted us to be policy relevant, intellectually honest and rigorous, nonpartisan, and brave in our pursuit of open international markets and sustainable economic policies…. For all of his many hard-won real-world accomplishments, Pete remained a true idealist, believing in the power of intellectual argument to move the public debate—and we are fortunate to be the product of that belief…. As the only independent institution to bear his name, among the many worthy institutions for which he played a critical role in creating or bettering, the Peterson Institute for International Economics will continue to guide international economic policy through honest, rigorous, relevant research and analysis for the benefit of all."

Read the tribute to Pete Peterson on the Peterson G. Peterson Foundation website.