Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rick Levin for NEC Director

Several news sites are reporting that Yale President Rick Levin is one of the three finalists to replace Larry Summers as Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council.

Despite being two baby boomer Jewish economists who have run two of America's top universities, Levin and Summers could not be more different. Summers while many accounts a difficult manager is also one of the top economists in the world. (He ranks at a super-human 17, surrounded by numerous Nobel Laurates).

Levin, by contrast, is a spectacular manager, having personally trained the presidents of Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Duke, Wellesley and the former president of Penn. (In a further comparison to Summers' ill perceived comments about women in science, four of these Levin acolytes are women.) That said, Levin doesn't even rank in the top 10% of economists, in part since he has served almost the past 20 years in administration, first as dean of Yale's Graduate School and then as University President.

Since the NEC is not a large government department or agency, and since Levin's skills are more as a manager than as an economist, perhaps he would be better suited for another position in the administration, should one open up. Unlike former President Bush, who for the first 6 years of his presidency diminished the importance of his Treasury Secretaries, President Obama has put Secretary Geithner front and center with his full support. Given the sprawling nature of that department, maybe it would be a better place for Levin.

As for NEC chair, how about Alan Krueger? Then again, he's already at his two-year public service leave limit from Princeton, and so he'd have to give up his tenure. That in itself is a topic for another time.

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