I came to know Alfred Kahn through his two-volume Economics of Regulation, one of the texts I studied in graduate school. Read it if you want to know everything there is to know about deriving marginal costs and the finer points of the Averch-Johnson effect on electricity pricing. Professor Kahn was chairman of the NYS Public Service Commission but he had moved on long before my tenure began. While he was greatly respected in regulatory circles as an economist and intellectual I'll remember him as a proponent of good writing. Early on in my career someone returned a paper I had written along with a copy of what was known as "the Kahn memo" which he had circulated in 1977 to his colleagues at the Civil Aeronautics Board. In it, Kahn railed against the artificial and hyper-legal language favored by bureaucrats and urged his employees to use "straightforward, quasi-conversational, humane prose." The key word here is "humane." It was our duty as public servants to write clearly, yes, but also with compassion and sympathy for our readers. Every now and then when I found myself lazily falling back on horrible bureaucratic gobbledygook, I could snap out of it by rereading Kahn's memo.
Alfred Kahn lived in Ithaca, NY and David and I could find him during our summer stays having lunch and reading the newspaper at the Cafe DeWitt. He had an office nearby and maintained an active consulting practice until he was well into his 80s. He was a sweet and modest man and when I told him that his 1977 memorandum was still in circulation, he seemed genuinely surprised and pleased.
Here it is. I think you will find that Kahn's words are as important today as they ever were (click on the image to read):
Read the NYT obituary here.