NYU Scholar Named As Obama's Director Of Economic Policy

This story was written by Chris James, Washington Square News
Jason Furman, a visiting scholar at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, was appointed director of economic policy for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign earlier this month.

The NYU scholar and leading economist now has the important task of counseling the Democratic nominee on what has recently become a main focus in his campaign: the economy.

"My job is to help [Sen. Obama] implement his economic conditions and bring a diverse set of voices to him," Furman said. "He likes to hear a discussion and a debate."

Furman has a wealth of experience in this capacity. He held the same position during the Kerry-Edwards campaign and had previously served as special assistant to the president for economic policy during the Clinton administration. In addition, he has been a visiting lecturer at both Columbia and Yale universities.

Furman received his doctorate in economics from Harvard University. One of his thesis advisors, professor John Leahy of the NYU economics department, said that he is confident his former student will succeed in his new position.

"I cannot think of a better appointment than Jason Furman," Leahy said. "He has excellent economic intuition and really knows the issues."

Although Furman has an impressive rsum in dealing with the economy, he still has his fair share of critics. Some politically left-leaning individuals and labor union organizations have blasted Furman for being too enamored with globalization and too intertwined with corporations. In particular, he has been scrutinized for his well-known view of Wal-Mart as a progressive business model.

During past debates Obama had attacked his former opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton over her involvement as a lawyer on the Wal-Mart board.

William Easterly, also an NYU economics professor, said he supports Furman because of his use of pragmatic evidence in coming up with economic policy.

"Mr. Furman's views on globalization and low Wal-Mart prices are very much within the mainstream of academic economists, whether on the 'left' or the 'right,' " Easterley said.

"I think Obama himself is a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, and he would do well not to give in to the predictable posturing by ideologues."

Lisa Duggan, director of the NYU American studies program in the department of social and cultural analysis, said she deeply opposes the economic beliefs held by Furman, and thinks that the appointment signals a right-of-center economic approach for the Democratic candidate.

"It's very disheartening to see Obama move toward neoliberal economic policies even before the convention," Duggan said.

Furman, however, said he believes that taking a bipartisan approach to his job is important in ensuring a better economic outlook.

"That's how we can make the world a better place, not just policy, but the political process," he said. "In many cases that does involve making it clear that you can work together with the other side."

According to Furman, Obama knows that the economy is in deep trouble today. He believes that there must be an increase in long-term growth with investments in education, energy technology and infrastructure.

Both campaigns have stated that a major way to bring stimulus to lower income families is by cutting taxes.

Sen. John McCain has repeatedly charged that under an Obama presidency, Americans would face the largest tax increases since World War II.

"That's absurd," Furman said in response to the claim. "Barack Obama is proposing tax cuts for middle-class families that are three times larger than what McCain is proposing.

"I think the whole debate between raising taxes and cutting taxes is false," he added. "The true debate is who are you cutting taxes for."

It seems clear that the economy will play a large role in determining the next president. News Corporation CEO and politically conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch told Reuters last month that he predicts there will be a Democratic landslide in November, citing the failing economy and an apparent recession.

Murdoch is not alone. Many on both sides are predicting that a dark economic outlook leading up to the election will only help the Democrats.

Furman said that he strongly believes Barack Obama can win in November.

"I am confident he can win," Furman said. "I think one of the reasons will be because John McCain wants to continue the same policies that have been in effect for the last eight years."

Chris James is a staff writer. E-mail him at university@nyunews.com.