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An EDIWM Farewell Tribute To Christy Romer…

August 10th, 2010 · 17 Comments

In case you haven’t heard, Christina Romer is stepping down as chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, effective September 3rd. It probably doesn’t shock you that the rumor mill is speculating that she’s leaving because she got sick of Larry Summers, but she says that she just wants to go back to California and be with her kids and such. Personally, I think having a nice tenured faculty position at UC Berkeley sounds better in a lot of ways than spending time in Washington getting criticized for not being able to predict things that no economists really know how to accurately predict.

A number of economists have reported and/or commented on the matter. For example, Greg Mankiw weighs in:

From my own experience in that job, I know she must be experiencing mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is an exhilarating experience to be a member of a White House team, a part of history, and the leader of a staff of smart, hard-working economists at the CEA. On the other hand, in jobs like this, one loses a great deal of autonomy. People who choose academia as a career often do so because they enjoy the personal and intellectual freedom it offers. Having spent two years without it, I appreciate that freedom all the more. I bet Christy will feel the same, after she recovers from Beltway decompression.

Other sources were less, um, politically correct in their statements:

“She has been frustrated,” a source with insight into the WH economics team said. “She doesn’t feel that she has a direct line to the president. She would be giving different advice than Larry Summers [director of the National Economic Council], who does have a direct line to the president.”

“She is ostensibly the chief economic adviser, but she doesn’t seem to be playing that role,” the source said. The WH has been pounded for its faulty forecast that unemployment would not top 8% after its economic stimulus proposal passed.

Instead, the jobless rate is 9.5%, after exceeding 10% last year. It was “a horribly inaccurate forecast,” said Bert Ely, a banking consultant. “You have to wonder why Summers isn’t the one that should be taking the fall. But Larry is a pretty good bureaucratic infighter.”

Hm. Well, I clearly don’t have the sort of inside information that people would find interesting or insightful, how I will pay tribute to Prof. Romer in the only way that I know how. I begin by recalling my favorite Christy Romer moment:

President Obama was getting his daily economic briefing one recent morning when a fly distracted him. The president swatted and missed, just as the pest buzzed near the shoes of Lawrence H. Summers, the chief White House economic adviser. “Couldn’t you aim a little higher?” deadpanned Christina D. Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Of course, this tribute wouldn’t be complete without a visual, and, thanks to The Daily Show, this is how I now picture Prof. Romer:

I think I like this image because it connotes that she would have no problem kicking Larry Summers’ ass. 🙂

Tags: Policy

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daehlie // Aug 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    This is only the first of the departures from the Obama economic team. Summers was initially a questionable pick due to his proximity to other aspects of the collapse itself, but also due to his affinity toward politics at the expense of sound economics. Should there be a major shift in the current membership of congress in the fall, you can expect both Geithner and Summers to be on the hot seat. Geither’s mortgage rescue plan has been a calamitous failure in stemming foreclosures, if anything those have accelerated since the administration took office. Summers more or less owns the stimulus, and at this point given the Feds move today on Open Market expansion of the money supply, the consensus on the success of the stimulus is just as grim.

    Obama would be well advised to begin with a sound base of economics rather than politico digested half measures at the expense of political capital.

  • 2 Rev. Pfloyd // Aug 10, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    I can understand the “lack of a direct line” thing; in a casual (and slightly scotch-fueled) conversation I had with another economist, he mentioned that Obama “listens to suggestions but is also very ideological”. Another said a similar thing in agreement about GW.

    Sometimes advisors, regardless of their ideas, spin their wheels when their ideas don’t help build a politician’s political capital. And while I’m not particularly a cheerleader of Romer’s line of thinking, I’d be frustrated too just the same.

  • 3 Chuck Dolci // Aug 11, 2010 at 12:58 am

    “… getting criticized for not being able to predict things that no economists really know how to accurately predict.”

    Then why do they keep pretending, and representing to the whole world, that they can? Hasn’t that been their justification for constantly meddling in the market (and everyone’s lives) ; that they were somehow smarter than everybody else and they had all the answers?
    No sympathy here for Romer or any of the rest of them.

  • 4 Dwight Israelsen // Aug 11, 2010 at 1:42 am

    There is an interesting semi-parallel to Christina Romer’s departure. Laura D’Andrea Tyson declined to serve a second term as CEA Chair during the Clinton years. At the time, she told me that being able to spend more time with her son was a compelling reason for returning to her Berkeley position. The Council (Laura, Allen Blinder, Joe Stiglitz) did not have to contend with a strong economist like Larry Summers as White House advisor, hence only dealt with the usual frustrations, i.e., good economic policy taking second place to political realities. Allen told me that he spent much of his time every day batting down bad ideas that came up from Congress.

    I was reminded of all of this the other day when I visited the MIT grad student office (now World Economy Center) that I had shared with Laura when Larry was an undergrad taking his first economics class at MIT.

  • 5 Marc Cuevas // Aug 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Chuck , that’s important point. Economics is very limited in what it can predicted.

    Any economist from her line of thinking would be as apt to cause disastrous unintended outcomes had she had the “direct line”, as Summers had.

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