Goolsbee out at CEA?

By Megan McArdle

I'm flabbergasted.  If true, this is a bloody embarassment:

Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee -- once the chief economic adviser to candidate Barack Obama -- may be less of a shoo-in to chair Obama's White House Council of Economic Advisers than his admirers once imagined.

The Obama transition team is interviewing to find a woman, perhaps a minority woman, to fill the CEA chair -- a Senate-confirmed position. Informed sources suggest the candidates on the CEA list now include Princeton University economics and public affairs professor Cecilia Elena Rouse, whose specialty is labor economics. The hunt for a woman, explained several sources close to the transition deliberations, is aimed at broadening the white-male cast of the White House team assembled to date (the current tally of announced picks is 3 women, 9 men).

Goolsbee, a respected University of Chicago professor, remains in contention for other administration posts, the sources added.

I take nothing away from Professor Rouse.  But she's a labor economist with a heavy, heavy specialty in returns to education.  Goolsbee, by contrast, focuses on taxation and capital formation.  Right now, I'd say the latter is our bigger concern.

More to the point, the worst financial crisis in seventy years is really not the time to see if you can brighten up the CEA offices with a nice, decorative matched set of X chromosomes.  Goolsbee has been advising Obama since the beginning; presumably, this is some sort of testimony to the esteem in which Obama holds his competence.  Throwing him overboard now makes this look like less of a "plus factor" and more like Obama is much less concerned with competence than painting a pretty picture for voters.  Given the stakes, that's more than a little irresponsible.

Needless to say, given that Obama's sterling choice of highest-caliber economic advisors was one of my main reason for supporting him, my regret is mounting faster than ever.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/11/goolsbee-out-at-cea/4380/