Politics & Government

UC Berkeley economist to play role in Obama administration

Sure, there's a recession, but the arrows are pointing up for economists at the University of California, Berkeley.

Christina Romer, a professor here since 1988 and an expert on the Depression, was named by President-elect Barack Obama to chair the White House Council of Economic Advisers. She follows her colleague Laura Tyson, who held the post in the Clinton White House, and becomes the latest economist from Berkeley to snare a top job in a Democratic administration.

Tyson and another Berkeley professor, Bill Clinton's labor secretary Robert Reich, are advising the Obama transition, and speculation is growing about others who might head to Washington.

Berkeley could be "losing our professors to the administration at an astonishing rate," said economist Brad DeLong, who was Clinton's deputy assistant treasury secretary.

More than that, Romer's appointment is seen as validation of a Berkeley school of thought that says government shouldn't shrink from fixing the economy. That meshes with Obama's call for huge public works spending to create jobs.

"If Berkeley brings anything to Washington, it's that there are times when the government must intervene in the economy," said graduate student Jonathan Rose, who has studied under Romer.

Berkeley's influence extends to other fields. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is Obama's nominee for energy secretary.

But much of the buzz is about economics, and there's some satisfaction that Berkeley-esque ideas seem to be gaining at the expense of the "Chicago School" – the free-market ideas of the late Milton Friedman and others at the University of Chicago that dominated Washington for much of the past generation.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.