Austan Goolsbee Stepping Down

Austan Goolsbee is resigning as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to return to the University of Chicago.

Austan Goolsbee is resigning as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to return to the University of Chicago.

NYT (“Top Obama Economic Player to Return to University Post“)

Austan Goolsbee, a longtime adviser to President Obama and the only economist left on his core economic team, plans to leave as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers by September, after a year in the job, to return to the University of Chicago.

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.

One gets the impression from that story that Goolsbee is being pushed, which would bolster the notion that Obama is absolutely ruthless in getting rid of aides who are no longer useful. But Politico (“Austan Goolsbee to leave White House“) ledes with an important piece of information that would seem to dispel that interpretation:

Goolsbee has been on leave for four years from the university’s Booth School of Business and could have lost his tenured position at Chicago, where he was a professor for 14 years before joining the administration, if he did not return, an official said.

[…]

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is the only senior official remaining from the economic team that inherited a financial crisis and recession when Obama took office.

In the past few months, Goolsbee has been one of the few White House officials who has felt comfortable discussing economic issues on television. Colleagues say he lightens up the West Wing, and he made his mark on social D.C. when he won a “Funniest Celebrity in Washington” contest.

“While I am looking forward to returning home to Chicago, I will always be proud of the years I have spent working for this President,” Goolsbee said. “I believe that his judgment, his courage in confronting the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, and his commitment to the American people have made a tremendous difference for the nation.”

While Obama has been in office less than two and a half years, that’s actually a very long time to stay in the pressure cooker. Yes, there’s tremendous prestige in being a top presidential advisor. But the pay is lousy, the hours are worse, and the constant scrutiny can’t be particularly attractive. That’s why the turnover in these posts is constant.

Goolsbee will be able to command much more money while living a much more comfortable life in academia.   I wouldn’t be shocked, though, to see him back in government either in a second Obama term (if there is one) or the next time a Democrat is in the White House.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Economist’s View was harsh about Goolsbee just yesterday:

    Austan Goolsbee: It’s Now Up to the Private Sector

    The tension seems to be between those who support our semi-austerity, and semi-focus on deficit, and those who would “do something” about jobs.

    As that article illustrates, Republicans may not recognize how much they’ve won. Post tea-party solutions have looked much more conservative, with spending only growing on automatic, and recovery left to the private sector.

    It’s more than a little ironic that Republicans would try to make this status quo stick as some kind of socialist expansion of the state, but then they can’t really admit that we are running on a fairly conservative plan already.

  2. Drew says:

    That was quick.

    Separately,

    “It’s more than a little ironic that Republicans would try to make this status quo stick as some kind of socialist expansion of the state, but then they can’t really admit that we are running on a fairly conservative plan already.”

    I suppose when you get to set the guage, any assertion is possible. An Indy car running at 175mph is pretty “conservative.” The fact of the matter is that the size of the government and the latent expansion that is going to occur is hardly conservative.

  3. jwest says:

    Austan Goolsbee was fired about 15 minutes after his Sunday interview with Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union.

    As he stuttered through a truly painful interview, the screen caption read “Stuttering Economy”. He couldn’t have made the administration look worse.

  4. CB says:

    I, for one, blame the lamestream media for that CNN hitjob. how dare they make him say nonsense in such a horribly unflattering manner!

    hey, this is easy and fun!

  5. john personna says:

    I suppose when you get to set the guage, any assertion is possible. An Indy car running at 175mph is pretty “conservative.” The fact of the matter is that the size of the government and the latent expansion that is going to occur is hardly conservative.

    All the liberal crimes that people like to accuse Obama of (stimulus, medical care) are ancient history. Government programs and spending have been on trajectory for years.

    And, given lapse in stimulus and QE2, we are really back to austerity.

  6. john personna says:

    BTW, I’m not sure that austerity is so much worse than all the other options. I just don’t like two things, a contradiction and an unrealistic promise.

    The contradiction is that Obama should do something, when all the somethings are really against conservative religion and off the table.

    The unrealistic promise is that some Republican, continuing this same semi-austerity, will have a different outcome.

    Maybe you just hope that the economy will make its natural turn, but after the election?

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    ….lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs.

    Uhhmmm what? Well, I guess if you don’t count all those months of job losses, then sure.

    And, given lapse in stimulus and QE2, we are really back to austerity.

    Right…austerity with deficits as far as the eye can see, and rising public debt.

  8. john personna says:

    Of course austerity with deficits. That would have to be the case, unless you presciently started austerity back at the Clinton surplus.

    I think most of the western democracies are in that same boat, austerity with deficits.

  9. So Goolsbee would have a problem obtaining another tenured position? Really? And what would that say about him?

  10. James Joyner says:

    @charles austin: No, I don’t think he would. Indeed, I’d be shocked if Chicago wouldn’t find a place for him whenever he decided to return. But I do think any impetus to return to the comforts of his previous life is enough to push him over the edge after a couple years.

  11. I pretty much agree with everything you just wrote Dr. Joyner. I just thought Politico’s attempt to justify his returning to academia was pretty darn weak. Difficult to imagine a 41-year old with his track record and CV not finding a tenured position just about anywhere he wants to go.