August 18, 2022

Top Obama Economic Player to Return to University Post

With the recovery flagging, the White House is eager to name a successor to Mr. Goolsbee this summer and is considering several academic economists, an administration official said on Monday. The job requires Senate confirmation.

“Since I first ran for the U.S. Senate, Austan has been a close friend and one of my most trusted advisers,” Mr. Obama said in a statement late Monday. “Over the past several years, he has helped steer our country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although there is still much work ahead, his insights and counsel have helped lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs. He is one of America’s great economic thinkers.”

Mr. Goolsbee, 41, a left-of-center economist who has advised Mr. Obama since the president was a state senator, has been part of the inner circle since the earliest days of the Obama presidential campaign in late 2006. He was the chief economic adviser at the Chicago campaign headquarters and would call on outsiders on occasion for expertise; many of the Democratic economists with experience in government initially were allied with Mr. Obama’s main rival for the nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton, because they had worked in her husband’s administration.

Mr. Goolsbee’s lack of Washington experience and his relative youth were believed to work against his getting one of the top economic posts as Mr. Obama filled his administration after the 2008 election. Mr. Obama named Mr. Goolsbee one of the three members of the Council of Economic Advisers. But when the chairwoman, Christina D. Romer, left last year to return to teaching at the University of California, Berkeley in September, Mr. Obama promoted Mr. Goolsbee to the cabinet-level chairmanship.

In that job, Mr. Goolsbee has focused on developing the economic arguments for government assistance and public-private partnerships for promoting innovation, research and development, education and infrastructure — an area he once taught about, and will do so again — even as the federal government is reducing spending elsewhere to try to rein in the growth of the national debt.

The theme of spending “investments” to “win the future,” introduced in Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address in January, has been a staple of the president’s agenda and speeches since.

“Austan’s insights and counsel on how business and government can work together to foster innovation and grow the economy have been invaluable,” said Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric, who worked with Mr. Goolsbee as head of Mr. Obama’s advisory Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Advisers say Mr. Obama knew when he elevated Mr. Goolsbee last year that Mr. Goolsbee would not stay long in the job and wanted to return to the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, which already had extended his leave from his tenured job. Mr. Goolsbee, who had been a professor there for 14 years, in an interview said it was “a dream job” and “I didn’t want to give that up.”

He said he made a final decision in recent weeks. Typically chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers do not serve long given that many are on leave from professorships, a fact that Mr. Goolsbee alluded to. He also dismissed any suggestion that the timing was bad given the recent evidence that the recovery was stumbling.

“I think the trend is going the right way,” Mr. Goolsbee said. “I think most of the private sector is anticipating the economy will pick back up in the second half of the year.”

While the University of Chicago is generally known for a conservative brand of economics, Mr. Goolsbee has a reputation as a left-leaning centrist and a strong advocate of free trade, a stance that has left union leaders in the Democratic base suspicious of him.

Mr. Goolsbee has advised Mr. Obama since the economy fell into recession and the financial system nearly collapsed amid the 2008 campaign and, once Mr. Obama was in the White House, was part of an initial economic team that included Ms. Romer, Lawrence H. Summers and Peter R. Orszag, each of whom has left.

In that crisis atmosphere, tensions built on occasion between Mr. Goolsbee and Mr. Summers, who headed the White House National Economic Council and coordinated administration policy. In one disagreement, Mr. Goolsbee supported bailing out General Motors but not Chrysler; when Mr. Summers did not invite Mr. Goolsbee to a pivotal meeting, Mr. Obama summoned him to hear his views.

Ultimately Mr. Obama decided to bail out both companies.

“As a guy who was with Mr. Obama from the start, he’s had a real role to play,” said Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who worked closely with Mr. Goolsbee during the campaign and when Mr. Volcker headed Mr. Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Mr. Goolsbee, an amateur comic, was the public face of White House policies more often than predecessors, often using a white board, and is likely to play an informal role from Chicago during the 2012 campaign.

“Austan has a great facility for communicating economics,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s chief strategist, who has returned to Chicago to begin campaign planning. “The fact that he’s going to be back here is really useful.”

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