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What will be President Obama’s crucial decision for the new year? It should be his choice for a top economic adviser; ideally someone who understands the world of business. With good economic news still merely a ripple in a sea of troubles, the selected adviser will have to deal with the 9.8 percent tidal wave of unemployment and the $14 trillion debt tsunami. And throw in global trade, as well.
Obama’s pick to replace outgoing director of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers, will signal the direction of his economic agenda at least until the 2012 election. Public polling has shown rising concerns about both short and long-term economic problems.
Choosing former Clinton administration figures to fill important offices has become almost automatic for Obama. That places Roger Altman, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, near the top of the speculators’ list. Also, Altman is a deficit hawk and an investment banker. Whoops, maybe his Wall Street connection makes Altman off-limits to an administration that has kicked Wall Street in the pants at every chance possible, while happily accepting campaign cash in the past.
Another well-known former Clinton man is Gene Sperling, National Economic Adviser to Clinton and now special counsel to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. He is also on the staff of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he serves as Senior Fellow for Economic Policy.
Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, is articulate in his TV appearances and has the administration spin down pat. But because he’s now an insider, he would not fit the notion of bringing in a fresh face from outside of Washington. Also, Goolsbee was chosen to replace Christina Romer, who left to return to teaching at the University of California at Berkeley.
Obama could turn to academia, calling out a scholar such as Yale President Richard Levin. But since his recent meetings with business executives have been at least civil, compared with his past bashing of industry leaders, Obama might—just might–find a prominent economist from the business world. The president met for four hours on Dec. 16 with 20 key business executives at the Blair House across from the White House. White House officials, according to a New York Times story “were projecting an image of a president seeking to work hand in hand with corporate America,” (rather than hand in pocket). Attendees included Kenneth Chenault, chief executive of Federal Express, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo.
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