Andrew F. Brimmer Biography
Excelled in School, Respected for His Economic Expertise, Selected writings
The first black man to be named a governor of the Federal Reserve System, Andrew F. Brimmer is a noted economist who heads his own successful Washington consulting firm, Brimmer & Co., Inc., and is considered a specialist in federal reserve monetary policy. He is also a frequent commentator in newspapers and magazines on economics matters and topics related to the national and international economy, as well as on those especially relevant to the black economic community. For a number of years Brimmer has served on the board of economists of Black Enterprise, a monthly magazine devoted to black business in the United States. In his "Economic Perspectives" column Brimmer reports on trends and developments in national economics, and translates them to both individual blacks and the black business community. Brimmer has lent his insight to such topics as the Social Security system, discrimination in black business, black-owned banks, and personal financing.
Excelled in School
Brimmer was born in 1926 in Newellton, Louisiana, the son of Andrew Brimmer, Sr., a sharecropper and warehouse worker. After graduating from high school in 1944 he moved to the state of Washington, and shortly thereafter enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving until 1946 in Hawaii. After his discharge, a federal education grant for servicemen permitted him to attend the University of Washington in Seattle, where he first pursued a degree in journalism. He later switched to the study of economics, convinced that it best allowed him an opportunity to understand the American way of life. Brimmer received his bachelor's degree in 1950, and thereafter was awarded a John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship with which he pursued his master's degree. One of his early interests, which he explored in several papers, was foreign economies. In 1951 he received a Fulbright fellowship to study in India at the Delhi School of Economics and the University of Bombay, and subsequently published several journal articles on the Indian economy.
After returning to the United States Brimmer began working towards his doctoral degree in economics at Harvard University and at the same time was employed as a research assistant at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He married his wife, Doris, a graduate student at nearby Radcliffe College, in 1953. From 1955 through 1958 he gained valuable experience working as an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and in 1956 was appointed to the fact-finding Central Banking Mission sent to the developing African country of Sudan. While Brimmer continued to pursue his research interests in foreign economies, he also became a specialist in the monetary practices and investment policies of American life insurance companies. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1957, he worked for five years as an assistant professor of economics at Michigan State University, during which time he published his book, Life Insurance Companies in the Capital Market. In 1963 Brimmer began working with the U.S. Commerce Department in Washington, DC, and eventually was promoted to assistant secretary for economic affairs. At the Commerce Department he became further experienced in U.S. foreign investment policies and practice, as he was called upon to encourage American businesses to limit overseas investments as a way to reduce international deficits. In 1966 Brimmer's government service reached its highest level when he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to fill a vacancy on the seven-member Federal Reserve System Board of Governors. One of the chief functions of the board is to develop federal-reserve policy as well as supervise the budget and operations of the nation's twelve District Reserve Banks. Brimmer served on the Board during the inflationary boom of 1964-65, and was a primary proponent and spokesman for the Board's decision to tighten the money supply by raising interest rates and decreasing the amount of loan funds available to businesses. He also voiced his support for curbing inflation through a tax increase, which occurred in 1968 when President Johnson authorized a ten-percent tax surcharge.
Brimmer's tenure with the Federal Reserve Board lasted until 1974, at which time he became the Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation professor at Harvard University's School of Business Administration. Two years later he founded his own economic consulting firm, Brimmer and Co., Inc., which specializes in federal reserve monetary policy. Combining his interest and experience in foreign economies, Brimmer has also become an authority on the world banking system, especially in the area of foreign debt obligations of Third World countries. In the 1983 Joseph I. Lubin Memorial Lecture at New York University, Brimmer outlined the common circumstances surrounding the crippling, high-interest loans owed by less-developed countries, their roots in the oil crisis of the late 1970s, and the role of U.S. commercial banks and the International Monetary Fund in moderating their resolution. Brimmer warned, however, against viewing the problem in general terms. "Different countries face a variety of particular obstacles which arise from specific circumstances related to their respective economies," he stated in The World Banking System: Outlook in a Context of Crisis. "Consequently, it would not only be futile but harmful as well to attempt to mandate a common, universal solution to the debt troubles plaguing developing countries."
Respected for His Economic Expertise
In recent years Brimmer has gained exposure as a leading voice on economic matters relating to blacks and the black business community. In the "Economic Perspectives" articles he contributes to Black Enterprise, Brimmer distills national economic topics for a general audience, reports authoritative facts to illustrate his points, and discusses economic topics that specifically pertain to blacks. Among the areas he has discussed are the Social Security system, the soundness of black-owned banks, the implications of free-trade agreements for minority business, and the persistent problems of discrimination toward black businesses. Brimmer's articles serve as an informative voice for the black economic community; regarding the 1990 collapse of New York City's Freedom Bank, the nation's fourth-largest black-owned bank, Brimmer suggested that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) engaged in the most severe resolution procedures allowed, thereby limiting the amount of money recouped by depositors—a trend, according to Brimmer, used by the FDIC in resolving the failure of other black-owned banks. He continued to voice his concerns and to propose solutions to the economic life of blacks through magazine articles and his service on the boards of a variety of governmental committees and private businesses.
Over the years Brimmer has decried discrimination against black-owned businesses and in minority hiring processes—yet he cautions against viewing discrimination as the primary culprit behind economic problems faced by black Americans. In a 1985 speech quoted in the Negro Almanac, Brimmer warned that deficiencies in both education and marketable skills were likewise to blame, and argued a controversial stance that "certain problems are not a matter of circumstance but a matter of choice for black people." He similarly warned in a 1985 Ebony article that by the year 2000 competition for service labor would be particularly intense. "Most jobs will require a much higher degree of skills, and…will be linked much more directly to computers and their operation," Brimmer wrote. When speaking in 1994 specifically about the limited number of black governors at the Federal Reserve Board, Brimmer noted that qualifications are the key to success. "I do not advocate diversity because there is something uniquely related to race, ethnicity or gender which will be brought to the Board," Brimmer told Black Enterprise. "The demand is for competent people and if they bring something else, that is a plus." But Brimmer warned in Black Enterprise in 1998 that, "Down the road, as competition increases, it will not just be blacks versus whites, it's going to be blacks versus everybody else, and unless conditions change dramatically, we risk dropping out at the bottom."
In addition to his duties as economic consultant and spokesman for the black economic community, Brimmer serves on the board of directors of a number of American corporations and banks. He has received various honors over the years for his work and is also a member of several economic associations. In 1989 he was re-named president of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History and the following year became chairman of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC, a post that he served faithfully until his resignation in 2001. In 1995 President Clinton appointed Brimmer to head a five-person control board, called the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, that helped Washington, DC, out of a severe budgetary deficit over the next several years. Brimmer continues his work to encourage black Americans to succeed and prosper.
The Setting of Entrepreneurship in India, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for International Studies, c. 1950s.
Some Studies in Monetary Policy, Interest Rates, and the Investment Behavior of Life Insurance Companies, Cambridge, MA, 1957.
Life Insurance Companies in the Capital Market, Michigan State University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 1962.
The World Banking System: Outlook in a Context of Crisis, New York University Press, 1985.
International Banking and Domestic Economic Policies: Perspectives in Debt and Development, University of California Press, 1986.
"Economic Cost of Discrimination Against Black Americans," in Economic Perspectives on Affirmative Action, edited by Margaret C. Simms, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 1995
Brimmer, Andrew F., The World Banking System: Outlook in a Context of Crisis, New York University Press, 1985.
The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the African American, 5th edition, Gale, 1989.
Black Enterprise, November 1988; November 1990; March 1991; July 1991; September 1991; December 1991; July 1994; January 1997.
Ebony, August 1985.
Jet, February 27, 1989; November 12, 1990; May 13, 1991; September 3, 2001.
New York Times, April 10, 1988; October 16, 1988.
—Michael E. Mueller and
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