Christina Romer may not be Harvard material, but she suits Obama

By A. James Memmott

November 26, 2008 at 12:11pm

Harvard’s loss may be Barack Obama’s gain.

Obama Tuesday picked Christina D. Romer, currently a member of the Economics Department at the University of California, Berkeley, to be the head of the Council of Economic Advisers in his administration.

She’ll be part of the team that includes Timothy F. Geithner, the incoming treasury secretary, and Lawrence H. Summers, who will be the chairman of the National Economic Council.

The selection of Romer comes a few months after Harvard President Drew G. Faust turned down an economics department recommendation that Romer be offered a tenured position at Harvard.

At the same time, Faust gave her approval to the offer of a tenured position at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to Romer’s husband, David H. Romer.

David Romer, who is also a professor of economics at Berkeley, turned down the Harvard offer, and the couple remained at Berkeley.

Faust did not comment on her decision to reject Christina Romer’s appointment, a decision that was met with disappointment at Harvard and relief at Berkeley, according to the Harvard Crimson.

“I have great admiration for Christy Romer as a teacher and a scholar, and I was looking forward to having her as a colleague,” N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard professor of economics who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2005, told the Crimson.

Her Berkeley connection may have been a factor in Romer’s selection to Obama’s economic team.

Two of her faculty colleagues, Laura D’Andrea Tyson and Robert B. Reich, have been part of Obama’s transition team.

Tyson chaired the Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration and Reich was secretary of labor.

Christina Romer, 49, is an expert on the Great Depression and monetary policy. She has published a wide variety of articles, often working with her husband.

Both Romers are members of the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Among other things, the group determines when the country is in a recession.

The Wall Street Journal Tuesday wrote that Christina Romer will “face a tough challenge” wielding influence at the White House.

“With big guns and players like Summers and Geithner, she’ll have to learn to get sharp elbows,” said Gerald J. Driscoll, former vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Barry Eichengreen, a colleague of Romer’s at Berkeley, said that Romer will do fine making herself heard.

“There will be a lot of loud voices in the room where the Obama economic policies are hammered out,” he told the Journal. “Chris can hold up her end in that kind of situation.”

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