Biodata for Nathan Keyfitz

August 1, 1998

Enid Charles

W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993)

I first met Ed Deming when he was an employee of the US Bureau of the Census. But Deming only flourished when he got into the world outside of government. There he attained a unique reputation is the guru of quality control.

What made that reputation was like all great ideas essentially simple. From the dawn of interchangeable parts in manufacturing the careful manager would assure quality in his output of some particular part by having 100 percent of it inspected.

Deming saw that that was wrong. It was expensive to have all the large number of inspectors required, and the result was not really 100 percent, because the inspectors could easily make mistakes.

What he urged was setting control limits well inside the tolerance limits. The place to put effort was on the machine tools that were used to make the part. If they were refined, so that the departure from the target was only one-third of the departure tolerated, then on some simple assumptions a process under such control would produce only one defective part in a thousand. If that wasnt't good enough one could go to half of that error, and in that case the defectives would be millionths of the output.

So Deming was a life-long teacher of

Robert Dorfman (1916-2002)

Yesterday (Monday July 22, 2002 Beatrice and I attended the funeral of our beloved colleague and friend, Robert Dorfman. He was a modest man, who did not allow his important discoveries to make him vain.

Bob was above all humane. His humanity showed through in all he did--in his economics, his environmental study, and outside of his profession, in his family life. And the human features could not but be an example, a model, to the rest of us. In the small local areas where he lived he made life just a little better


Mexico City, 1962

I was invited to give a course in population at the Colegio de Mexico, a small non-governmental institution with high standards, that is wholly separate from the National University, much larger, and with much lower standards of admission and instruxtion. The Collegio was in considerable part the work of a distinguished economist, Victor Urquidi.

One of the people that I knew there was Professor Margit Frenk.



Charlie and Hazel--Steve, Ann, and Tim


Katmandu, 1957

Nepal being a member of the Colombo Plan I felt I should visit it at least once. In my time one disembarked from the Delhi-Calcutta plane at Patna, in Northern India, leaving the comfort and security of a large four-engine plane, travelling at 40,000 feet, for a one engine plane travelling much closer to the ground. Our little plane couldn't go as the crow flies; it had to weave its way along the valleys. As we went along, snow covered mountain ridges high above us both on the right and the left, I felt that only my short-sightedness kept me from seeing the people inside the houses seemingly stuck on the sides of those ridges.

The town of Katmandu is in the Katmandu Valley, and only 2500 feet above sea-level. You are prepared to breath deeply of the fresh mountain air--but make no mistake--the main odors are from the garbage strewn in the streets.

Tantric Buddhism is widespread in Nepal. It is expressed in high relief sculptures showing couples unmistakably having sex. That is quite different from the style in which we decorate our public squares here in New England.

I had the usual interviews with government officials, and then returned home via Patna and Calcutta.

Moving about on the Indian sub-continent a half-century ago

Lahore-New Delhi, Bombay 1956

In the course of my service with the Colombo Plan I had to make visits to Lahore, the capital of the Punjab for the last 1000 years, and to New Delhi, the capital of independent India. In both cases my job was to ask about Colombo Plan aid and give very general advice. The distance between them is about 300 miles, and today a bus does it in 10 hours or less; then it was somewhat more. But the trip would allow me to see the countryside.

Predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have been mutually hostile since Partition a few years before my visit. In fact the Partition was decided on as a way of stopping the killing that went on when the British pulled out. It was some time before a modus vivendi was worked out. But the border seemed peaceful to the visitor--it was just that the Pakistani bus could not enter India. When we arrived at the Pakistan side of the border we descended from the bus, picked up our baggage and walked the 300 or so yards to the Indian side, there getting on to an Indian bus and resuming the trip.

A few days later it was Independence Day and I heard Nehru speaking from the Red Fort It was a dramatic occasion. The Republic was new and hope was everywhere; Nehru's personality came through wonderfully; the square in front of the Red Fort was filled with an enthusiastic crowd.

I haven't been in India more recently, but I am told that in the last years the speeches at the Independence Day celebrations have been uninspired; attendance has been poor and the sense of drama lacking. In south Asia as in a surprising number of other areas de-colonization has been followed by rising income for the ex-colonial power, and falling income for the freed ex-colony.

When whatever business I had in Delhi was completed I went on to Bombay. India has four main cities--New Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and on the map those cities form the vertices of a rough square. To have all pairs of cities connected in both directions, a central transfer point was set up. I got out of the plane from Delhi and found the plane that was shuttling between the transfer point and Bombay.

My business in Bombay was to give a short course in p opulation at the International Institute for Population Sciences. The IIPS was organized in the early 1950s, and still exists. I gave my usual lectures, trying to get people to see the population problem realistically, but not pleading for any particular policy. I tried to get students to think about the problem, confident that if they did so they will come out with the conclusion that India has too many people. The number continues to rise and is now (mid-2003) estimated by the French INED at 1068 million. It will soon have more people than China on present trends in both countries, while it only now beginning to show the economic dynamism of China, Without rapid economic progress there is plenty of misery ahead.

Birth control in Senegal ...

Dakar, 1982.

My colleague Donald Bogue of the University of 'Chicago needed a teacher who would explain the advantages of birth control to an assembly of teachers from the half-dozen or so countries of West Africa. He tried to find persuasive local teachers to spread the word, and he selected me to teach the teachers. The lectures had to be given in French. While not accent free my French is fluent and understandable enough.for this kind of communication. So I was off to Dakar, capital of Senegal.

Dakar is just about the last point the sun passes over as it leaves the Old World. It was a center of the slave trade with the Americas until about two centuries ago. I was shown a holding prison for slaves while they waited to be marketed and shipped.. For security the slaves were bolted into very small separate compartments, just as they were on the slave ships. The buildings and furnishings were retained intact. and accessible to visitors. They were a constant reproach to visitors whose ancestors had operated the slave trade.

More pleasant, there was a swimming pool attached to the hotel where I was lodged, and I used it daily, leaving my clothese by the side of the pool. On the first day my watch was gone. When I told Beatrice about this on returning she waid, "Just who was undereveloped?" There was no use making a fuss--I jsut bought another in downtown Dakar--waterproof so wearable in the pool.

But to come to the work, for which Donald Bogue engaged me I had a class of about 20 officials from the half dozen or so ccountries of West Africa, and for a week they heard me explain that if West Africa continued its high birth rates it would use up a good deal of capital just in equipping and training the new population coming into existence. Less, perhaps nothing would be available for the capital investments that would modernize their economies. I reiterated these - again and again, trying to come at them always with different examples..

At the end of the last lecture I asked the question--what does your country need most? One student stood up: "We need more people," he said.

An incident in the Holocaust

Dr. Lingan--Vienna 1992

I had no contact with the Holocaust, but during our years in Vienna we heard many stories. One that gave me a sense of the sickening cunning of the Gestapo was related by Dr. Ella Lingens, whom we met at a dinner party. What follows is from notes under date of May 23 1992, as translated into English..

Dr. Lingens lived through 18 months of Auschwitz and 5 months of Dachau, until she was freed by General Patton's advancing armies. She was in her thirties at the time, so she must be in her eighties now, but as sprightly an oldster as one would want to meet. She was born in the part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was later Yugoslavia; her mother was Jewish, but not her father, and she was raised in the Evangelisch (i.e. Protestant) religion.

After the war she found that her law degree taken earlier was not of much use, so she studied medicine, married a fellow student, an Austrian, and is now retired after a career as a doctor. Among other stories, she spoke about a Jewish policeman in Vienna, who had been told by the Gestapo in 1941 that he would be deported, but there was a way he could save himself: by handing over to the Gestapo Jews who were in hiding. He accordingly turned to the disagreeable task; outwardly respectable enough, he made it known that he could get Jews out of Austria and into Switzerland. When Jews in hiding approached him he told them that it would require money. One of his "clients", a friend of our Dr. Lingens, was told by the policeman that it would take Dm. 20,000, which she was able to hand over. Then he said that another Dm. 10,000 would do it, and that also she raised.

Before she left on the trip a suspicious friend gave her a half sheet of his own notepaper and asked her to write as soon as she arrived at the destination, that was to be Zurich. The policeman took her in charge, and before she got to the border forced her at gunpoint to write a letter saying she had arrived safely, and giving an address. That letter the policeman himself carried to Zurich, stamped, and put in a mail box from where it should have gone back to Austria. Dr. Lingens' friend never reached Switzerland; at the border she was handed over to the Gestapo. But our policeman had made a mistake; he did not put enough stamps on the letter. The Swiss post office returned it for the additional postage, but the address of the sender, given as Limmat Quai, No. x in Zurich, was non-existent, and the letter came back to the post office, where it was stamped "Sender Unknown" and mailed to Austria despite the incorrect postage. That and the fact that the paper on which it was written was not what she had been given by her friend told the story, and the identity of the policeman was passed around by word of mouth, widely enough that no more victims came forward.

After the war Dr. Lingens looked into what had happened to that policeman. It turned out that once he was of no further use to the Gestapo he was dispatched. On hearing the story one of our party exclaimed something like "Er hat es verdient (he deserved it)". "No, our group did not see it that way," responded Dr. Lingens. "True he was unheroic, and one knows of others in his position who committed suicide rather than betray friends and relatives. But then as now when I think back to those tragic times, and how people were lowered by them, he seems like just one more small, frightened creature, doing what he could to survive."

Pictures of my 90th birthday party.

Cambridge, June 29, 1903

The following website was wholly due to Martin Golubitsky. He inconspicuously took the pictures and put them on the web, with a very convenient set of thumbnails as an index. Clicking on any one brings up the full picture. Just copy the following and paste it into the slot marked "Run", that you will find by clicking "Start"

Following is the key to the pictures:

  1. Barby and our grandson Ben
  2. Elizabeth and yours truly
  3. Barby
  4. me again
  5. Beatrice
  6. Alex
  7. Elizabeth
  8. Lauren and Alex
  9. Barby and Alex
  10. Rob and me
  11. also Rob and me (When I learn how to edit it will be lighter)
  12. Nazrat, me, Bea and Lauren