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Richard Cooper, Harvard economist who advised presidents, dies at 86

Richard N. Cooper, a Harvard University professor of international economics who served as a policy adviser to Democratic presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton and wrote extensively on trade, monetary markets, climate change economics and the interdependence of nations in the world economy, died Dec. 23 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 86.

The cause was lymphoma, said a daughter, Laura Cooper.

Cooper spent the bulk of his career in academia, teaching at Yale University from 1966 to 1977 and then at Harvard since 1981 with his final online class concluding the week of his death.

Interested in the practical application of economic theory and research, he took occasional leaves-of-absence over the years to serve as a senior foreign policy adviser in Washington, traveled widely to study the economies of developing countries, spoke at forums addressing geopolitical issues, and lent his scholarly expertise as a consultant to the United Nations, the Rand Corp., and other organizations and policy-oriented institutions.

After serving two years as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, he was Clinton's chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 1995 to 1997, a post he accepted at the behest of John M. Deutch, a fellow Boston-area academic who at that time was serving as CIA director.

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On the heels of a global recession, an oil embargo and rising inflation, Cooper served in the Carter administration as undersecretary of state for economic affairs from 1977 to 1981, helping to shape the president's multinational fiscal-policy coordination objectives at the Group of Seven summits, the annual economic forums of the leading industrialized countries.

He also provided analysis on the economic effects of the Camp David Accords, the agreements establishing Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist, signed by President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

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In the mid-1960s, during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, Cooper oversaw international monetary affairs as a deputy assistant secretary of state. A few years earlier, he was, at 26, a senior staff economist on Kennedy's Council of Economic Advisers. He came to the Kennedy White House's attention while conducting research on his doctoral dissertation at the Brookings Institution.

Richard Newell Cooper was born in Seattle on June 14, 1934, and grew up in Greenbelt, Md. His father, a former journalist, was a civil servant and his mother worked at the War Production Board.

After World War II, Cooper spent four years in Frankfurt, Germany, where his father helped to establish press reforms as a political and public affairs officer with the High Commission for Occupied Germany.

Cooper later spent a couple of his summers in Alaska working as a homestead surveyor before graduating in 1956 from Oberlin College in Ohio. He received a master's degree from the London School of Economics on a Marshall scholarship in 1958 and a PhD in international economics from Harvard in 1962.

His first marriage, to Carolyn Cahalan, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Jin Chen Cooper, and their two children, William and Jennifer Cooper, all of Cambridge; two children from his first marriage, Laura and Mark Cooper, both of Seattle; a brother; and a granddaughter.

Cooper served on the board of the Center for Naval Analysis think tank and was a member of the Trilateral Commission international think tank, the Civilian Executive Panel of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, the Aspen Strategy Group and the Council on Foreign Relations.

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He wrote and edited books on macroeconomic subjects. One of his earliest publications, “The Economics of Interdependence: Economic Policy in the Atlantic Community” (1968), led him to become a strong advocate of the concept of governments’ coordinating economic policies with other countries to maximize economic gains.