Alum to advise Obama

It took Austan Goolsbee ’91 GRD ’91 17 years to go from being an aide to Yale’s economics faculty to being an aide for the President of the United States.

On Nov. 26 President-elect Barack Obama appointed Goolsbee, now a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, a three-member body charged with developing much of the White House’s economic policy. The 39-year-old Goolsbee will also serve on the White House’s newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which the Office of the President-elect claims will provide “independent, non-partisan” advice to Obama as he implements a policy response to the current financial crisis. Goolsbee’s colleagues at the University of Chicago said it is likely that Goolsbee, an expert on tax policy, will serve as the administration’s economic point man on taxation issues.

“Austan is one of America’s most promising economic minds, known for his path-breaking work on tax policy and industrial organization,” Obama said in a Nov. 26 speech. “He’s one of the economic thinkers who has most shaped my own thinking on economic matters.”

Goolsbee deferred comment for this story to spokesmen for the Obama transition team, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment last week.

Since Obama’s 2004 run for U.S. Senate, Goolsbee has been one of the President-elect’s closest advisers on economic policy. He was particularly influential in Obama’s advocacy of income tax breaks for workers.

In his new role, Goolsbee will serve as chief economist and staff director of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board under Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve. There, Obama said, Goolsbee will be the “primary liaison between the board and the administration.”

His appointment comes as little surprise to University faculty who worked with Goolsbee when he was a summa cum laude undergraduate standout in economics. University President Richard Levin, once a professor of economics and management at the Yale School of Management, served on the faculty committee that reviewed Goolsbee’s work for his master’s degree in economics, a degree Goolsbee received concurrently with his B.A. in 1991.

“I, for one, never doubted that he would make a substantial mark on the field,” said President Levin in an e-mail. “And I am not at all surprised that he has been so influential as an adviser to President-elect Obama.”

Deputy Provost for Faculty Development and economics professor Judith Chevalier ’89 said that Goolsbee’s expertise derives from his specialty in tax policy and public finance along with his contacts in the field. Although no one economist can be eminent in all the field’s disciplines, Chevalier said, Goolsbee knows “all of the leading experts in the areas that are not his.” Chevalier, who has co-authored three academic papers with Goolsbee, said that she is not surprised by his appointment.

“I don’t think there was ever a question that he would in some way join Obama’s team if Obama asked,” she said. “And I don’t think, given the extent that he has been a trusted advisor, that there was ever a question that Obama would ask.”

One of Goolsbee’s colleagues at the University of Chicago suggested that Obama’s administration will turn to Goolsbee on matters of tax policy.

“He knows a lot about taxation and about how people react to different tax policies,” said University of Chicago professor Chad Syverson. “I think that anything that comes out of the administration about taxes will have had a good look over by Austan.”

As an undergraduate, Goolsbee and debate partner David Gray ’92 won the 1991 Team of the Year award given by the American Parliamentary Debate Association. Goolsbee was also a member of improvisational comedy group Just Add Water, the Yale Political Union and secret society Skull and Bones.

Gray said Goolsbee was a dedicated economist, teaching his University of Chicago microeconomics lecture even on his wedding day.

“This just shows his commitment to the field of economics,” Gray said. “And this is how you get to being on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board at the age of 39.”

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