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In memoriam: Nils Taube, one of the founding fathers of IFS, who died on 11 March 2008

NILS OTTO TAUBE (1928- 2008)

This piece was written for IFS by Will Hopper, with contributions from Bob Buist and John Chown. Along with Nils Taube, they were the four 'founding fathers' of the Institute.

Nils Taube was one of the four founders of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The origins of the Institute lay in the aftermath of the 1965 Finance Act, which had introduced capital gains tax and corporation tax to the United Kingdom. Like the other three founders - Bob Buist, John Chown and me - Nils had been upset at the lack of thought that went into the formulation of the provisions of this law. In 1967, we spent a brainstorming, bachelor weekend at a well-known hostelry, the Bell at Aston Clinton, resulting in four articles on tax reform, one written by each of us, which would be published in The Times.

 Nils Taube
By courtesy of The Times

On July 30 1968, all four of us met again, this time for dinner at Stella Alpina, a restaurant in North Audley Street in London. The occasion was memorable for two events. As we were consuming our first course, Nils - who was well known as a raconteur - began to tell one of his entertaining tales. Just as he reached the punch line, he leant his not inconsiderable bulk against the back of his chair. There was a loud crack as the unfortunate piece of furniture gave way. Bob, John and I leapt to our feet to help our stricken friend. Then, I am sorry to say, we all laughed. Nils lay flat out on the floor, arms outstretched to his sides and with a look of utter surprise on his face. We never heard the punch line.

We also decided to form the Institute and chose its name. Each founder would make a distinctive contribution. Bob had brought the group together - and provided it with a sense of direction. John added his profound knowledge of both economics and taxation, as well as writing the Institute's first major report, which was, appropriately enough, on corporation tax. My own, less distinguished, contribution included inserting the word 'for' into the Institute's title, which has misled generations of people looking up telephone and other directories. (Its future Director, John Kay, would later say that the 'for' was the only part of the title that was not an instant turn-off.) I also became the first chairman.

Nils' principal contribution was to introduce Dick Taverne, QC MP, who became the Institute's second part-time Director in 1970. More than anyone else, it was Dick who put the Institute on the map, establishing it as a reputable academic body and raising funds that would enable it to hire Professor Kay, first, as Director of Research in 1979 and, shortly after, as Director tout court. As the saying goes, the rest is history. The Institute will celebrate its fortieth anniversary next year. It has been from the beginning a collegiate institution in every sense of that word.

To the rest of the world, Nils was best known as a stockbroker turned money manager. He possessed not only superb analytical skills and a profound knowledge of the market place but also a killer instinct for a deal. Appalled at the mass stupidity of the financial engineers who dominate today's capital markets - 'the idea that you can buy listed companies and gear them up 10 times' - he knew, nonetheless, how to benefit from their folly. In October of last year, when gold was standing at $750 an ounce, he predicted that it would go through its previous high of $850 achieved in 1980 and acted accordingly; last week, it broke through $1,000. That, in itself, constitutes a kind of memorial to the man.

Nils died at 7.30 am on Tuesday March 11, while looking up the previous day's share prices on his Bloomberg terminal. Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife, Idonea, and their three sons. We will all miss someone who loved life and made an art of living.