How Much Grey Matter Can One Brain Trust Hold?


Geithner, Bernanke and Rahmbo bet on how BDSM fashion will impact the Dow.

The twilight of the Obama Administration's first economic team raises a question: Do we know just how big the Obama economic team is? Presidential administrations have grown a forest of economic-analysis and fiscal-management bureaucracies over the years, and the czar-happy Obama Administration is no different. Here is a partial roster of the administration's economic all-stars and the bureaus they head up:

Paul Volcker, chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board (16 members);

Austan Dean Goolsbee, male chairlady of the Council of Economic Advisers (staff of 20);

Jared Bernstein, chief economic adviser to the vice president Joseph Biden (additional staff unknown);

Larry Summers, outgoing director of the National Economic Council (possibly to be succeeded by Anne Mulcahy), which also boasts deputy directors Diana Farrell and Jason Furman;

Don't worry. There are dozens more just like them.

Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management & Budget (Jacob Lew has been nominated as former OMB director Peter Orszag's replacement), which has at least six above-the-line staffers and an unknown number of support staffers.

There are plenty of other non-cabinet officials who confer with the Oval Office on economic policy, including FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair and Elizabeth Warren, special advisor to the president and illegally appointed head of the new Consumer Finance Protection Agency. There are also free floaters who seem to be in on White House policy decisions, such as Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and her two deputies.

And then there are actual cabinet members with an economic portfolio: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Those folks have economists on retainer, and according to the Wikis, the entire official cabinet shows up for meetings of the NEC.

Not since Thomas Jefferson dined alone! This is easily 50 people. And who knows how many more researchers and sous-economists there are taking up desks?

In his treatise Politics, Aristotle writes, "For every one person added to a group, Teh Stoopit increases by a mulitplier of 1.55." Why not apply that sterling principle here? There are certainly some fine people listed above; reliable people have good things to say about Austan Goolsbee. But the cost of losing one is outweighed by the benefit of losing all. The president could realize a nominal cost savings and show he's finally getting serious about the economy if he eliminated all the non-cabinet positions other than the ones (such as FDIC and CFPA) that are mandated by law. It's bad enough that we have to have those, but can there be any doubt that a smaller general staff would be more effective than this alphabet soup?

No hope of that happening? Then shouldn't we at least expect all these economists to produce a steadier stream of studies, analyses, white papers and other pdfs for public consumption? Under what bushel is CEA hiding, for example, the light of staff economist Sayeh S. Nikpay, who has been out of college five years and should qualify as a grey eminence in the nation's capital?