Economist, businessman, statesman
Born: December 13, 1920, in New York City
Died: February 6, 2021, in Stanford, California
Grew up in: Englewood, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2023: Public Service
Having served in four cabinet posts under two Republican presidents, George Shultz can rightfully be credited with crafting much of U.S. foreign and domestic policy in the latter decades of the 20th century. And despite his consistent adherence to conservativism, he is also noted for his advocacy of such progressive policies as racial quotas to force integration; the normalizing of relations with Cuba; and the establishment of a revenue-neutral carbon tax to combat climate change.
Shultz was raised in Englewood and for several years attended Englewood School for Boys (now Dwight-Englewood School). In 1942, he graduated with honors from Princeton University, where he studied economics, with a minor in public and international affairs. He joined the Marine Corps in 1942, serving in the Pacific and attaining the rank of captain.
After the war, Shultz earned a PhD. in industrial economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for almost a decade, with a leave of absence to serve on President Dwight Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors. He next joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
In 1969, newly elected President Richard M. Nixon appointed Shultz as secretary of labor. It was in this, his first cabinet post, that Shultz introduced racial hiring quotas in federal construction projects. In 1970, he was named director of the new Office of Management and Budget; in 1972, Nixon chose Shultz as treasury secretary. In both cabinet-level positions he helped formulate the Nixon Administration’s economic policies, primarily focusing on curbing inflation via wage and price freezes.
Shultz left public service in 1973 to become a senior executive at Bechtel Corp., a giant, California-based engineering firm. He also taught at Stanford University. Shultz remained in the private sector until 1982, when President Ronald Reagan appointed him secretary of state.
Known as a pragmatist, Shultz as secretary of state promoted peace in the Middle East and Latin America, while calling for action against terrorism in Beirut and other global hot spots. He also managed tricky relationships with China and the Soviet Union in a period marked by growing concern over disputed territories and nuclear proliferation. His shepherding of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviets in 1987 helped ease Cold War tensions.
After leaving the White House in 1989 (the year he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Shultz remained a leading conservative thinker, although his occasional progressive positions may have surprised many. In 2008, he characterized the ongoing U.S. sanctions against Cuba as “ridiculous.” He also advocated for further nuclear arms control and repeatedly promoted the idea of a tax on carbon-dioxide emissions in light of his acknowledgement of climate change.