The current economic landscape is not a hospitable one for the White House. Its key features are a lingering jobs crisis, painfully slow growth and mounting federal debt. Advising the president on the economy is never easy, and it's particularly tough right now. So it was significant that Jason Furman was almost universally regarded as the right man for the job.
President Obama last week nominated the 42-year-old Furman as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the three-member panel responsible for informing the president about his policy options on a range of economic issues. After bidding goodbye to the outgoing chairman, Princeton economist Alan Kreuger, Obama introduced Furman as "one of the most brilliant economic minds of his generation."
Furman has the pedigree to justify that statement. The son of a prominent New York-based real estate developer father and a high-profile liberal philanthropist mother, Furman made a name for himself in Democratic circles by serving on the staff of President Clinton's CEA in 1996 while still a graduate student at Harvard.
After obtaining his Ph.D., Furman set aside an academic career for a succession of policy jobs in Washington and gained a reputation for an ability to think critically. Although he is known as a political progressive, Furman has drawn attention for trespassing liberal orthodoxy on a variety of economic topics. In particular, his 2005 paper defending Wal-Mart as a benefit to the middle class drew the ire of some labor groups and marked him as an independent thinker.
After a stint at the Brookings Institution, Furman became an early member of Team Obama by joining the future president's 2008 campaign. Later, as deputy director of Obama's National Economic Council, he played a role in developing the 2009 stimulus package and later in shaping the 2010 health care law. More recently, Furman has been featured in media accounts warning about the effects of the sequestration policy that took effect earlier this spring.
Perhaps the most significant indicator that Furman is well positioned to run the CEA is that his nomination was met with praise not just from the Left but from the Right. A group of Republican-affiliated economists wrote on the American Enterprise Institute's blog that Furman "will serve the president and the nation with distinction." Among the signatories were two of President George W. Bush's CEA chairmen: Glenn Hubbard and N. Gregory Mankiw, who was also Furman's dissertation adviser at Harvard.
Running the CEA is generally not a highly public or politicized job, but it is an important one in setting public policy and shaping a president's legacy. Furman faces a tough job ahead, but he begins with the wind at his back.