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Obituaries

Paul R. Porter, 94; Economist, Consultant

April 26, 2002|ADAM BERNSTEIN | THE WASHINGTON POST

Paul R. Porter, a self-taught economist whose varied career included being the editor of a socialist magazine, a ranking Marshall Plan administrator and an advocate for the renewal of inner cities racked by rioting and social ills, has died. He was 94.

Also known internationally as a business consultant, Porter died Sunday at a hospital in Sarasota, Fla., after a stroke.

Porter had been a labor organizer and magazine editor in Wisconsin when he severed his socialist ties in the spring of 1941. He resigned publicly from the Socialist Party's national executive committee to protest the party's opposition to U.S. Lend Lease legislation to help Britain during World War II.

He went on to hold a series of key government jobs during the 1940s and early '50s. As chairman of the War Production Board's ship stabilization committee, he helped establish labor standards in shipbuilding.

In the mid-1940s, he became a U.S. member of the European Coal Organization and was U.S. alternate to W. Averell Harriman as representative to the Economic Commission for Europe. He also was a top deputy of the U.S. team that helped devise NATO.

In the late 1940s, he was chief of the U.S. Mission for Economic Affairs in London and then joined the Economic Cooperation Administration as head of its mission to Greece in 1949.

After trying to create reforms in Greek labor and economic policies, he was promoted to assistant ECA administrator and was a close advisor to Marshall Plan steward William H. Draper Jr.

He rose to deputy for economic affairs for Europe at the Mutual Security Agency, a successor to the ECA. He resigned from that position in 1953, amid congressional hearings into his old socialist ties.

He went on to start Porter International Co., which in the 1950s and '60s fostered overseas production of U.S. goods through licensing agreements between firms in the United States and abroad.

He sold the business in 1967 and spent the next several years researching and writing "The Recovery of American Cities," a controversial book published in 1976.

In hearings before Congress and also as an urban affairs professor at Cleveland State University, he spoke about his blueprint for weaning cities off federal dependency and reshaping inner cities losing their tax base as wealth flowed into the suburbs. He compared his ideas to a Marshall Plan for the United States.

He argued for a government-supported jobs program and public-private partnerships. He also wrote that the inner-city poor should follow blue-collar jobs into the suburbs.

A few city neighborhoods should be razed entirely and rebuilt with high-income housing to stabilize the tax base, he said.

At one hearing before the House Committee on Banking, Currency and Housing, Porter was asked whether the movement of blacks to the suburbs would dilute their political power.

"I think it might, but I don't know of any way we can tell people that they ought to stay in a city where they are unable to find jobs, merely in order to support a candidate for office on the basis of race," he said.

"I think we have to find a more constructive solution than that."

Porter was born on a farm in Drexel, Mo., and grew up in Kansas City, Mo. He was a journalism graduate of the University of Kansas.

He joined the Socialist Party in his early 20s and wrote for such publications as Revolt while a labor organizer.

He was president of the Philadelphia taxi drivers union until tuberculosis sidelined him for a year. After recuperating, he was editor of the Kenosha Labor newspaper in Wisconsin from 1935 to '41.

His socialist past was investigated twice during his years in government, first in the early 1940s by Rep. Martin Dies Jr. (D-Texas), chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities. No actions were taken against Porter.

In 1952, Sen. Homer S. Ferguson (R-Mich.), a member of the Senate subcommittee on foreign aid appropriations, said Porter needed vetting because he was in a position to disseminate aid money intended to stem Communist influence in Europe.

Powerful industrialists such as Henry J. Kaiser spoke out on Mr. Porter's behalf, but Ferguson demanded his resignation.

The hearings brought up Porter's former marriage to Eleanor Nelson, who as Eleanor Nelson Soyring was active in Communist-tinged labor circles. They had long been divorced.

Rather than risk harming the aid program, Porter resigned. He viewed the rest of his work in the private sector as a means of carrying on the work he could not complete in government.

Survivors include four children from his second marriage and seven grandchildren.

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