Obama's New Economic Director Sparks Debate

06/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • The Huffington Post

Barack Obama has announced his new campaign director of economic policy, Jason Furman, and already the decision is causing a bit of debate among progressives. Marc Ambinder gives the quick background on Furman:

He is the author of a well-regarded and much-debate piece for the Center for American Progress arguing that some efforts to pressure Wal-Mart into changing its business practices wind up hurting low-income consumers. He was writing in response to a report by Wal-Mart Watch which noted that Wal-Mart employees are disportionately on the dole; Furman wrote that Wal-Mart's low prices + entitlement programs = a decent standard of living for most low-income Americans, although he concedes that Wal-Mart can and should do much more to help its own workers. In general, Furman appears to be a Keynesian, but as director of the Hamilton Project, he's joined a group that advocates for a balanced budget....over the long term. So Furman might well countenance an expansion of the deficit during a recession. On trade, Furman's positions are well within the Democratic mainstream.

Steve Clemons is surprised by the decision, and wonder why the neoliberal tradition is dominating Obama's economic team:

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....

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.

Ezra Klein, on the other hand, sees little reason for surprise or worry:

I think this is a good move for Obama. Jason has the political skills and policy contacts to run an effective economic shop. But if the question is why Obama didn't hire a more progressive economist like Dean Baker or Jared Bernstein or Joseph Stiglitz, the answer seems pretty simple: Despite some primary pandering in Ohio, Obama isn't that progressive on economic issues....

That said, these disputes mean a bit less than they once did. There aren't many huge trade deals on the horizon. The question is how to compensate the losers of trade, not whether trade can be rolled back. Meanwhile, relations between leftie and sorta-leftie economists are rather collegial lately, as most of them agree on the problems facing the country. The big economic issues for the next administration are probably tax rates, deficit reduction, health care, inequality, and the credit/housing/financial crisis. Left-of-center economists almost universally agree that taxes should be higher, health care should be universal (means differ here, of course), and inequality is a problem. There's a lot of dispute as to the proper response on the financial crisis.