Jerry Ellig, Bridge Builder
Jerry Ellig (1962–2021) was a dedicated and accomplished scholar of economics. Wanting his work to make a difference in people’s lives, he also perceived the need for a “bridge” connecting the academy and the policy world. It was one he traversed, from the university to government and back again, throughout his career.
“Jerry’s great legacy will include steering Ajit Pai’s efforts to change the institutional design of the FCC to improve the quality of its own decision-making with economic analysis. Anybody who has been inside a regulatory agency knows how difficult this sort of meaningful change is to achieve.” —Joshua Wright, University Professor, the Antonin Scalia Law School
Jerry began his career as an assistant professor of economics at George Mason University between 1989 and 1995. He then went on to serve as a senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress (1995–96) before returning to Mason to join the university’s Mercatus Center as a senior research fellow. Between 2001 and 2003 he was deputy director and acting director of the Office of Policy and Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, after which he again returned to Mercatus and to a position as adjunct professor in Mason’s School of Law (2005–08). In 2017 Jerry became chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission and, a year later, research professor at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center.
To those he worked with at the federal agencies, Jerry Ellig was a professional who brought to bear the kind of economic analysis that can deliver rational regulation and good governance. To the members of Congress he testified before on Capitol Hill, he brought what Mercatus colleague Robin Bowen called “insights on regulatory decision-making they weren’t going to get from anyone else that day.” To his colleagues and his students in the academy, he brought a collaborative approach and a generosity of spirit. And to everyone he encountered he brought a warmth that was immediately endearing and a twinkle in the eye that simultaneously suggested two things: first, that he knew something you didn’t but wouldn’t hold it against you; and second, that we should take our work seriously, not ourselves. And if the twinkle didn’t manage to communicate these things, then the trademark “parrot” ties he loved to wear would.
“He cared so much about getting research right and about expressing only the truth.… His passion for regulatory analysis greatly influenced me and is one of the main reasons I have made my own career in the same area.” —James Broughel, Senior Research Fellow, the Mercatus Center
Jerry didn’t change much based on where he was. Yes, for a full-blown congressional hearing he would upgrade his attire to a suit from the sport coat and carpenter pants he preferred for other Hill meetings. And he mostly reserved his colorful Hawaiian shirts for his frequent visits to his favorite tiki rooms, whether the famous Frankie’s in Las Vegas, the House of Foong Lin in Bethesda, or the one he created in his own home.
Wherever he was and whoever he was with, Jerry was always amiable, civil, courteous, humble, and enthusiastic—or nearly always. In an occurrence notable for its rarity, he famously lost his composure during one of his testimonies, before a House Judiciary Committee when a member questioned the independence of his research. For Jerry there could be no greater insult because, as was evident to all present, the politician was questioning Jerry’s integrity.
"As a colleague and mentor to dozens of economists, legal scholars, and policy analysts, Jerry was generous in his advice and time, and kind in his words and deeds—two characteristics frequently in short supply in the academy and the policy world.” —Dan Rothschild, Executive Director, the Mercatus Center
“Integrity” is a word that readily comes to mind as his friends and colleagues think about Jerry. He’s thought of in many other ways, too: wickedly smart, an amazing mentor to students (per Adam Thierer); personal humility (Susan Dudley); smiling and speaking gently (FCC chair Ajit Pai); genuinely kind, funny (Patrick McLaughlin); brilliant (South Carolina State Senator Penry Gustafson); a mischievous grit (Sen. Ted Cruz); and true to himself, jovial, exuberant, caring, and fair (wife Sandy Chiong).
Outside of work Jerry led a textuted life. And sometimes-especially after he and his family moved to rural South Carolina-he brought a little of the texture into the George Washington University and Mercatus offices with him. Like when he would arrive with a basket of eggs from the chickens his daughter, Katherine, raised for her 4-H project. Or when he brought in some of the rabbits he himself had raised, one of which managed to escape down a Mercatus hallway and at speed, with Jerry in hot pursuit.
“He was relentlessly cheerful and optimistic. And conversations with Jerry never were the sort of arcane arguments that are so common in the academy; rather, they were constructive, exploratory, and creative.” —Brian Mannix, Research Professor, George Washington University, Regulatory Studies Center
Jesuit-educated from preschool through university, Jerry received his BA in economics from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and his MA and PhD in economics from George Mason University. While at Mason he was a graduate student fellow at Mercatus (then known as the Center for the Study of Market Processes), the place where he would spend so much of his professional career and from where he would launch his forays into government. In his dissertation he addressed three of his loves: It was titled “Law, Economics, and Organized Baseball: An Analysis of a Cooperative Venture,” which the devoted fan of the Big Red Machine dubbed “Fastballs, Curveballs, and the Market Process.”
A member of his church choir and active in his parish, Jerry was a man of faith—and works. Generally private about spiritual matters, he preferred to live out rather than talk about his values and beliefs, communicating them all the more forcefully for that. With his sudden death in January 2021, Jerry left behind him his wife of 28 years, Sandy, and their daughter, Katherine. For this great bridge builder and mover of ideas only one more journey remained—the climb up Jacob’s ladder and home.
View a complete list of Jerry's work.
Ways to Honor Jerry's Legacy:
Read a book about Jerry's work: Jerry Ellig on Dynamic Competition and Rational Regulation
Contribute to the Jerry Ellig Memorial Fund