Sidney Lewis Jones was born September 23, 1933, in Ogden, Utah. He is of Welsh descent. He spent a significant portion of his childhood in California, where his father earned a doctorate in bacteriology at Stanford University. In 1953 he married Marlene Stewart. They had five children.
He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He has played several leadership roles in the church: he was a bishop as of 1984 and a member of the presidency of the Washington D.C. Temple as of 2006.
In 1954 Jones earned a B.S. in economics from Utah State University. He was valedictorian, a Distinguished Military Student, and a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Alpha Kappa Psi. He played varsity tennis, a hobby he maintained during his career as an economist. From August 1954 to September 1956 he served in the United States Army, first at Fort Lee in Virginia and then at the Sierra Army Depot in California. He left the Army as a First Lieutenant.
In 1956 Jones entered Stanford, where he earned an M.B.A. in 1958 and a Ph.D. in economics in 1960.
From 1960 to 1969 Jones taught finance, first at Northwestern University and then at the University of Michigan. In 1968 he was promoted to full professor, becoming at 33 the youngest full professor in the history of the University of Michigan.
In 1969 Paul W. McCracken, chairman of President Richard Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers and a former colleague at the University of Michigan, recruited Jones as an aide to the Council. For the next 24 years he moved in and out of government, serving a number of senior economic policy roles and taking research and teaching appointments in between these stints. Most notably, he was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Nixon administration; Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Reagan administration; and twice Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, in the Ford and George H. W. Bush administrations.
In a 1984 interview he described himself as more a teacher of economics than an original researcher. He also said his time in government made him a more knowledgeable teacher.
This list is drawn from biographical information on Jones from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum and the record of the Senate confirmation hearing for his second term as Assistant Treasury Secretary. Throughout his career he also had occasional, brief visiting appointments at schools including Dartmouth College, Rice University, Carleton College, and Cornell University.1956–60: Assistant and then associate professor of finance, Northwestern University
1965–69: Associate and then full professor of finance, University of Michigan
1969–71: Senior Economist and Special Assistant to the Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers
1971–72: Professor of finance, University of Michigan
1972–73: Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs, U.S. Mission to NATO
1973–74: Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs
1974–75: Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy to the Counsellor for Economic Policy, the White House
1975–77: Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy
1977–78: Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Smithsonian Institution
1978: Assistant to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
1978–82: Lecturer, Georgetown University
1978–83: Research Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
1982–83: Consultant, U.S. Agency for International Development
1983–85: Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs
1985–86: Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Smithsonian Institution
1986–89: Associate Faculty, Center for Public Policy Education, Brookings Institution
1986–89: Visiting Professor, Georgetown University
1988: Member, Economic Policy Advisers Group, Presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush
1989–93: Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy
For a time after his appointment as Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs he was a senior adviser to the Government Research Corporation.
Jones is a Republican. He has described himself as an "eclectic monetarist." In 1977 he identified inflation as the primary threat to prosperity and argued against the existence of a tradeoff between inflation and unemployment. In 1984 as Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs he favored lower federal spending, a consumption tax, reducing income tax exemptions rather than increasing marginal income tax rates, and combating inflation.
In 1983, two of Ronald Reagan's most senior aides disagreed over how to reduce the federal budget deficit in fiscal year 1985. Council of Economic Advisers chairman Martin Feldstein wanted to raise taxes, while Treasury Secretary Donald Regan wanted to reduce spending. Jones sided with Regan, and in the end so did Reagan.
Republican and Democratic economists praised Jones's work as an economist and described him as within the mainstream of contemporary economic thought. Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 election, so in early 1977 Jones was preparing to leave government. He praised Carter's choices for economic advisers, including Charles Schultze, W. Michael Blumenthal, and Bert Lance, despite disagreeing with many of their policy views. During the 1989 Senate confirmation hearing for Jones's second tenure as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, he won praise from Republican Senators John Chafee and Bob Packwood as well as Democratic Senators Lloyd Bentsen and David Pryor.