(photo credit: Patrick Andrade/New York Times)
Jason Furman, Director of the Brookings Institution Hamilton Project, has just announced that he is joining University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee as part of Barack Obama’s (paid) economic policy team. This is really interesting news given the tug and pull over economic policy that has taken place already inside the Obama camp.
There are exceptions in their broad policy profiles and work, but essentially, both Goolsbee and Jason Furman are serious economists who generally subscribe to a neoliberal economic policy framework. They would be called “free traders” for the most part — and because no free trade is really a free trade deal given the thousands of pages and negotiated side arrangements that comprise an FTA, it’s fairly easy for each to say that they are on the side of working families and want to prevent the worst impacts from hitting the American middle class while in theory, they would prefer to see a genuine, frictionless free trade system in which efficiencies are created throughout the economic ecosystem.
Furman (a friendly acquaintance of mine and close associate of one of my New America Foundation colleagues) is also well known for his budget-hawkery. He has been part of the Democratic Party economic class that has successfully stolen from the Republicans the ethic of fiscal conservatism and advocates a Social Security entitlement reform process that begins to wrestle with America’s long term entitlement obligations.
To some degree, Furman manifests the interests and perspective of perhaps the leading neoliberal force in politics today, Robert Rubin. Furman could make a good case that his views may differ here and there, but my sense is that he’s an essential spear-carrier of Rubinomics.
Given the rhetoric of Obama on redoing trade deals, of giving China a tough time on trade, and focusing on the real needs of working class Americans — the choice of Furman surprises me though I certainly don’t oppose it.
But calling a spade a spade, it’s clear that Furman is no Dean Baker or Robert Blecker or Jared Bernstein — all important economists who have been far more right as of late than the Rubin crowd in anticipating the stress points in globalization, the housing bubble, trade, and the like.
Leo Hindery, the CEO who has been advocating a stakeholder vs. ‘winner takes all’ capitalism as well as a national “on-shoring strategy”, is part of Obama’s advisory team — but it may be wise for Obama to explain why those hired for the econ jobs pretty much reflect neoliberal orthodoxy and those ‘only advising’ in political roles are struggling with strategies on how to rebalance the economic results and impacts of globalization. I do a lot of work with Hindery whose earnestness in trying to rejigger the global economy towards fairness and growth is inspiring — and my recommendation to Obamaland is to make sure that Hindery and others working on this front that is more skeptical of classic neoliberalism are elevated as well.
It’s useful to remember however that whereas Robert Reich and Derek Shearer wrote Bill Clinton’s economic plan for the 1992 campaign, it was Rubin and his followers on the neoliberal wing of economics who contained and essentially exiled those with alternative views.
So, congrats to Jason Furman on his new post — but I am scratching my head wondering which direction Obama is really going?
— Steve Clemons