Obama and Bush Economic Advisors Compared

Greg Mankiw, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors from 2003 to 2005, takes exception to Paul Krugman‘s assertion “Isn’t it amazing just how impressive the people being named to key positions in the Obama administration seem? Bye-bye hacks and cronies, hello people who actually know what they’re doing.”  He points to the standard RePEc data, ranking citations of economics based on academic citations, and shows the rankings of Obama and Bush advisors:

11. Larry Summers
21. Greg Mankiw
35. Ben Bernanke
99. Eddie Lazear
132. Glenn Hubbard
249. Harvey Rosen
391. Christy Romer
653. Austan Goolsbee

Now, there are probably better measures available.  None of them has won, as has Krugman, a Nobel Prize.  Further, being an influential academic economist isn’t necessarily an indicator of being a competent policy advisor.

That said, he’s right that the “Bush appointed incompetents” meme is largely false.  All eight of these people, even Goolsbee with his meager 653 (out of 18,000 plus) ranking, are highly respected economists with impressive credentials.

Presidents, of both parties, have access to the finest minds in the country and tend to appoint them to key posts.  Bush appointed some people who weren’t up to snuff, such as Mike Brown at FEMA.  Then again, so did Bill Clinton.  Jocelyn Elders, anyone?  Political backscratching, cronyism, and other factors sometimes lead to less than steller people landing important jobs.  That seldom happens, though, in technical fields.

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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.


  1. odograph says:

    Philip Cooney is stll my favorite … but there is still the (untold) story of how Jeff Gannon got on the White House press list. Gannon was not an appointment, I understand, but if you want some real early Bush-era strangeness, there it was.

  2. anIRprof says:

    There’s also some age bias in the citation counts. Goolsbee only got his PhD in the early/mid 1990s and so there’s been a lot less time for him to write and then be cited by others. Among young economists I gather his reputation is pretty stellar.

    On the other hand, there’s a case to be made that experience counts for a lot in policy advice, not just brilliance, and so maybe the lifetime cumulation is the right approach.

  3. James says:

    But then:

    Earlier today, I saw Greg “Bush economist” Mankiw was a little touchy about a Krugman blog comment. My reaction was that Mankiw has some explaining to do. A key embarrassment for the economics profession in general, and Bush economists Greg Mankiw and Eddie Lazear in particular, is how they missed the biggest economic story of our times.

    But in addition to looking forward, I think certain economists need to do some serious soul searching. Instead of leaving it to us to guess why their analysis was so flawed, I believe the time has come for Mankiw, Kling and many other economists to write a post titled “Why I was wrong”.

    Source: Calculated Risk: Hoocoodanode?
    (h/t Eschaton)

    Let’s wait and see when and if they admit how wrong they were. Until then, they don’t really deserve to be taken Seriously. As a matter of fact, we should run away from their musings as fast as humanly possible.

  4. steve says:

    Explain Hennessey as head of the NEC. Keep a straight face while doing so.