Obama assembles variety of economists


WASHINGTON–U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday invited top economists to a private lunch at the White House for the second time in three weeks, tapping a broad array of ideological views as he seeks to assemble an economic agenda for the remaining 30 months of his presidency.

Unable to get his economic policies through a divided Congress, Obama is going beyond his White House economic team in search of ideas that can translate into executive actions or ways to nudge institutions and businesses to make changes that meet his economic goals.

Some of the participants are well-known to Obama. Among Wednesday’s guests was former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, freed from the firewalls that separate the White House from the nation’s central bank. Others such as Princeton’s Alan Blinder, who lunched with Obama two weeks ago, and Harvard economist and former President Reagan adviser Martin Feldstein who was a guest Wednesday, have provided their advice to Obama before.

All in all, 13 economists have been to the White House since June 18, offering Obama their take on issues ranging from banking and finance to technology and education.

The approach is not altogether new for Obama. He has been known to enjoy meals with historians and, early in his presidency, frequently sought outside counsel from economists as he prepared policies to address the financial crisis and the Great Recession. But the new sessions with economists differ in focus from the past, one senior administration official said, because Obama is tapping academics with diverse ideologies and who study a range of topics, from the impact of robotics to corporate governance to taxation.

The political views of the participants range from liberals like Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who days before his meeting with Obama described his host as “looking like a very consequential president indeed,” to conservative Kevin Hassett who has written that Obama’s efforts to stimulate a recovery “have had little visible impact on the relative performance of the U.S. economy.”