My close encounter with Mother Teresa was a chance one, in 1979. This chance encounter taught me everything I know about good macroeconomic policy.
I, a young law student, was standing on 41st Street, by the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City, one afternoon. I was waiting to be met by my then girlfriend. I held three roses purchased for her inside the terminal.
She was late. I walked down the long, deserted, New York City block looking for her. And then I walked back. Walking in the opposite direction was a small party: a priest, a monk, a nun dressed in white, and a tiny old woman, her face weather-beaten and lined, dressed in a coarse brown robe. I thought to myself, “the tiny woman sure looked like Mother Teresa.”
It did not immediately click. I was under the impression that Mother Teresa was far away in Calcutta. It never occurred to me that she traveled. She having been on the cover of Time Magazine, a few years before, under the headline “Living Saints,” I assumed her an international celebrity always thronged by crowds. Destined for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Now beatified.) I thought, based on the Time cover illustration, her to be 6 feet tall. So far away….
A priest, a monk, a nun, and … who else could it be?
They had passed by. I mentally kicked myself. This was one of three personal heroes whom I had yearned to meet — and thought, because of distance, it never would be. I turned around, wistfully, to look … to discover that their little party had stopped. I began to walk, just short of a run, toward them, arriving at a surprising scene.
I had walked by a homeless man (or, as then was called, bum) sleeping on the 41st Street sidewalk. People sleeping on the sidewalk were a familiar sight in the New York City of that era. I hadn’t even noticed him.
But Mother Teresa had noticed him. And she had stopped to get him to his feet.
As I approached the group, Mother Teresa was glaring up at this wobbly fellow — someone nearly two feet taller than her. She had her forefinger pointed right in his face. A cop, who had wandered over, echoed her lecture to him:
“Now you listen to the little lady. Unless you help yourself there ain’t nothin’ we can do for you.”
Macroeconomics in a nutshell. This presented an axiom apparently lost on both major political parties today.