Who is Christina Romer?
By LISA LERER, POLITICO
November 28, 2008
When Barack Obama selected Christina Romer to lead his Council of Economic Advisers, the response of many in Washington was “Christina who?”
But in economic circles, Romer was an obvious pick. The University of California at Berkeley professor, one of the preeminent macro-economists in the country, specializes in the Great Depression. And for a new administration poised to inherit the current economic crisis, who better to put in office than the expert on what went wrong the last time?
“Right now, you want a business cycle stabilization chair of the Council on Economic Advisers and that’s Christy,” said friend and colleague Brad DeLong, an economist at Berkeley.
Romer and her husband, David, both tenured professors at Berkeley, have been fixtures in the economic world for years. And when they started advising Obama during his campaign, speculation was rampant that a post in any new Obama administration would be in store for at least one of them.
Christina Romer, 49, has known several members of Obama’s inner circle for years. As a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was a favorite of a young assistant professor named Lawrence Summers. And this week, Obama picked Summers, a former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, as a top White House economic adviser.
Romer knows Peter Orszag, who will be Obama’s White House budget director, from his days as an adjunct professor at Berkeley.
Romer shares much of Summer’s centrist, pragmatic perspective on economic issues.
“They will be natural allies on many issues,” said Greg Mankiw, former chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.
A close friend of David Romer’s from their undergrad years, Mankiw was also the best man at the Romers’ wedding.
“On nine out of ten issues they would independently come to the same conclusion,” he said. “And on the other, after they talked it out, they would come to same conclusion.”
Romer has described herself as having “liberal Obama-heavy political views," but her work has drawn support from both parties.
She burst into the economic scene with her doctoral dissertation that fundamentally changed how economists viewed the Great Depression.
Economics data indicated that the business cycle before the Great Depression was much more volatile than the economy after World War II. Economists widely assumed the data demonstrated the success of the post-Depression stabilization policies. Romer proved them wrong by showing that what seemed like a decrease in market volatility was really due to improved data collection.
Since then, she’s done extensive work researching the causes of the Great Depression and the roles that fiscal and monetary policy played in the country’s economic recovery. More recently, she has focused on the impact of tax policy on economic growth in papers co-authored with her husband.
Her findings have been cheered on both sides of the aisle. In a November 2008 paper, the Romers concluded that tax cuts can increase economic output, a finding cheered by in low-tax, Republican circles.
The Romers, who live in Oakland, Calif., with the youngest of their three children, have long packaged themselves as the dynamic duo of the economics world. When they went on the teaching market, they made it clear that the universities would have to hire both of them.
They kept that promise even when Harvard University came knocking. The Economics Department voted to offer Christiana Romer a job earlier this year, while David was slated to take a post at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Christina Romer’s job was eventually nixed by Harvard President Drew Faust. David Romer turned down the job offer and Faust was widely criticized for her decision.
The Harvard decision is a typical one, say friends and colleagues, who describe Romer as unafraid to take tough stances.
On Wednesday, Romer called DeLong after reading some of her old critiques of his papers as part of the administration vetting process.
“God, I was mean,” she said, Delong recalled. “When people are wrong she is not shy about saying why they’re wrong.”
She’s also able to deal with Summers, who’s widely known as a brilliant, but sometimes difficult, personality.
“Larry is also a bull in a china shop,” said Mankiw. “Christy has more of a deft touch. They will be natural allies on many issues.”