Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Too many people around the table

New York Times photo: Paul Volcker (left) and Austan Goolsbee with Barack Obama

OK, I get it. Barack Obama likes Paul Volcker and wants to be sure he has his sage advice around the table. He also likes Austan Goolsbee, a young guy who worked hard on economic policy issues in the Obama campaign (and who Obama called a "promising economist" at today's announcement) and wants to have him at the table too (and reward him with a job).

But gee whiz, isn't the table getting a little crowded? The estimable, gray-haired Volcker, a Democrat and an economist, served as Fed Chairman during the Carter and Reagan Presidencies and has done just about everything else a man can do. At 81, Volcker would surely be thrilled to keep giving Obama his advice whenever asked, just as he did throughout the campaign. So why is Obama creating a new thing called the Economic Recovery Advisory Board for Volcker to chair and where Goolsbee will be chief of staff?

The New York Times says this is "a new panel to be comprised of leading figures from a variety of business sectors" that "is supposed to advise Mr. Obama on how to jump-start the economy and stabilize the financial markets."

Isn't that what Larry Summers is supposed to do as head of the National Economic Council in the White House (which is charged with coordinating economic advice and policy)?

And isn't that what Christina Romer is supposed to do as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors (a statutory agency which has two other members appointed by the President and is supposed to give the President the best economic advice around)?

And isn't it part of what Tim Geithner and the entire Treasury Department is supposed to do?

I'm all for great minds around the table, and it's clear that the markets appreciate Obama's relying on so many sound, experienced hands. But Obama may find it less than desirable when the participants start to disagree and bang on the table.

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