President-elect Obama has publicly stated that he wants "unconventional" thinking among the people who give him advice on the economy. Fantastic. So, here are some suggestions.
I'm throwing out these suggestions---and welcome others---partly because of the debate zapping around progressive circles about how critical progressives should be about the incoming Administration. I find myself in the--gasp!--middle on this question and, in particular, there is a nuanced answer when it comes to the economic vision. On the one hand, yes, these folks aren't even in office and, yes, it's the president who makes the decisions; I harbor high hopes that a man who worked as a community organizer will have that experience as the moral compass he uses to make economic policy decisions. On the other had, it would be foolish to believe that gatekeepers--staff and Cabinet officers--don't matter: in the avalanche of information the president gets every day, those gatekeepers, understandably, filter what he sees. That's the real world.
My criteria for the list below are pretty simply. I chose people who I know have solid, long-time visions of an economy that thinks of people first, corporations second (and, to be fair, these are all long-time colleagues or friends or both, so I admit a bias). I did not choose any elected officials but, certainly, there is a long list of those folks who should be part of an informal network. I know that the people below would not be seduced by power, nor would they be willing to sacrifice principle for, say, a chance at fame or publication of a joint op-ed with Robert Rubin. And they carry a collective wisdom that fits the "unconventional" rubric that the president-elect says he favors.
In alphabetical order, for your (his) consideration (and I should add: none of these people should be held responsible for my characterization of their qualifications, nor for even including them on this list):
Dean Baker: had the politicians, pundits and economists listened to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, it's possible we would have avoided the financial mess we are in. Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, was warning about the housing bubble as far back as August of 2002.(Others tried to sound the alarm, as well). But, unlike Robert Rubin, Baker and others were not considered the "wise men" by the politicians, pundits and economic "experts" who sat on their asses while we hurtled towards disaster. Baker is a truth-teller.
Ron Blackwell: the chief economist for the AFL-CIO, Blackwell has been central to formulating a response for the labor movement to globalization and, specifically, Rubinomics; in fact, he has shaped the federation's general critique of "market fundamentalism." Blackwell probably sees the global economic picture better than most people inside and outside the labor movement.
Barbara Ehrenreich: She is not an economist or a Beltway policy wonk--which makes her the perfect choice. We need someone inside the economic team who will measure any policy using a simple yardstick: how will this hit the minimum wage workers I've met in every corner of the country? And she's funny, too.
Thea Lee: the director of public policy for the AFL-CIO. Beyond the title is an individual who really would never sell us out but can also work within the policy world to make real gains. And I believe her daughter--Ruby--has the best full name around for a future Supreme Court justice.
David Morris: the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Morris has thought about, and written broadly, on energy, trade, taxes and sustainability. The broader framework of what Morris argues for is "New Rules", which means decisions are made by those who will feel the impact of those decisions; communities accept responsibility for the welfare of their members and for the next generation; and households and communities possess or own sufficient productive capacity to generate real wealth. And Morris and Ehrenreich will regularly crack people up.
Joel Rogers: director of the Center On Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), which is a "national policy center and field laboratory for high-road economic development -- a competitive market economy of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and capable democratic government." But that title and description doesn't really capture Rogers' genius: he has an astonishing capability to translate progressive ideals into very practical applications at the community level. He loves cities and sees them as the engine for progress and growth. And, most important, appreciates a very good glass of wine.
Lori Wallach: as director of Global Trade Watch, Wallach has been the most dogged, single-minded, relentless champion in the outside-government world for a trade policy that breaks from the so-called "free trade" model. And, to the extent so-called "free trade" is thankfully on its death bed, Wallach is among the handful of people in the world who have made that happen. It would be a tough competition but, in this group, I'd give Wallach the slight edge on who would sleep fewer hours to make the world a better place.
It's a start.