Berkeley professor chosen for Obama's team

November 24, 2008 7:28:05 PM PST
On Monday, President-elect Obama promised his administration will hit the ground running, when he takes office. That's in less than 60 days now.

To guide the country through the current financial crisis, Mr. Obama has chosen a U.C. Berkeley professor to play a key role on his economic team.

Christina Romer, who has been in Berkeley's economics department for 20 years now, will chair the president's Council of Economic Advisors. Their mission is to provide the president with objective economic analysis and advice.

ABC7 was told Romer has great communication skills and gets along with the new director of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers, who is known to have a big ego. Her colleagues at Berkeley say she's the perfect pick.

Christina Romer has been at U.C. Berkeley for 20 years. She is a specialist in economic history, best known for her work on the economic recovery from the Great Depression.

"At a moment like this when we're trying desperately to avoid making any of the mistakes that were made during the Great Depression era, to have someone who is an absolute expert on the Great Depression in Washington is I think an important plus," said Brad DeLong is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, under President Clinton.

"She's not only a very good economist in terms of her research, but she's won teaching awards here at the university," said Alan Auerbach, Director of Berkeley's Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance.

Auerbach and a number of colleagues call Romer a gifted communicator. Berkeley economic policy professor Robert Reich is part of the president-elect's economic advisory team.

"She fits the job like a glove, she will love the job, and she'll be enormously helpful to our president-elect and our president," said Reich.

Reich and other say the first big hurdle for Romer will likely be access.

"The general rule is that proximity is 90 percent of influence," said Reich.

"And if I were her I would demand as a non-negotiable condition of employment, that not only she, but at least her two deputies, get offices within the compound," said DeLong.

Another challenge is the fact that Obama has picked former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to head the National Economic Council. The former president of Harvard University caused an uproar three years ago when he told an economic conference that an innate difference in women was they weren't good at math. "Larry Summers was at Harvard for many years when David and Christina were at graduate school at MIT," said Rich Lyons, dean of Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Lyons has known Romer and her husband David, since those grad school days at MIT.

"She is not the sort of person that will retire when she has a point of view that differs from Larry's, and at the same time she very politic and she knows how to do that in a way that doesn't get needlessly confrontational," said Lyons.

"You have to be the smartest person in the room without making it obvious that you are the smartest person in the room and she's very good at that," said DeLong.

When it comes to chairing the president's council of economic advisors, the Bay Area plays a strong hand. Stanford's Michael Boskin held the post from 1989 to 1993 for the first President Bush. Berkeley's Laura Tyson was named chair by President Clinton and was followed by U.C. professor emeritus Janet Yellen who now heads the San Francisco Office of the Fed. That's not a bad showing for the home team.


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