According to reports, Christina Romer, Chairman of the President’s Council of Economics Advisers (CEA) is calling it quits. Why does this matter? Another ignored economist leaves Washington with a slightly tattered professional reputation to be received joyously back in the arms of her colleagues in academe having served in a glorious cause—pass the brie and chablis.
Well, it matters, at least a little. It matters because the notice given means the CEA still matters. As a CEA alum, I’m encouraged that even in this Administration the outward appearance, at least, of economic counsel matters.
It’s inside the ballpark—okay, inside the infield—but it also matters because this isn’t a typical departure. First, it follows closely on the surprise departure of Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag. That’s half the senior economic advisor team (with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and NEC Chairman Larry Summers) jumping ship in short order.
Second, it’s highly arrhythmic for CEA. One of the joys of CEA members is working with the senior economists—some of the best and brightest of America’s young, rising stars (okay, so it’s hard to imagine a “rising star” among economists, but it’s true). The new crop of senior economists have just come on board.
Further, the CEA is already planning for the next Economic Report of the President. To most people, it’s not a coffee table item, but to CEA it’s a major effort and a really big deal. For this reason, the rhythmic time for a chairman to leave is in early Spring.
Third, Romer is a top-flight macroeconomist (or is when not running jobs numbers at CEA). The global economy is losing steam, and we may be as well. Not a good time to lose her, even if her counsel isn’t exactly heeded in the White House.
Why is Romer leaving now? We may never really know. Tired of White House clashes with Summers? Maybe, but she knew about those going in. Tired of Washington? Understandable, but Romer’s a professional who would not leave at an awkward time without a better reason. Tired of defending the indefensible—the whole “jobs saved or created” thing? Like Orszag, doesn’t one want to have the watch when the boat hits an iceberg?