Jaws dropped last week on word of the appointment of Laura
D'Andrea Tyson to head Bill Clinton's Council of Economic
Advisers. To win this most coveted job in the economics
profession, Tyson had to beat out a half-dozen highprofile
heavyweights, some of whom had been tirelessly lobbying the
Clinton transition team.
And until a few months ago, Tyson was known simply as a
competent scholar who had thrown in her lot with the trendy
minority of economists and political scientists intent on waging
technowarfare with Europe and Japan.
Her surprised colleagues concede the 45-year-old University of
California professor made her own luck _ that in her encounters
with Clinton she was exceptionally persuasive and well
On reflection, that should not have been surprising: Tyson is
a very successful teacher, as well as a polemicist with a flair
for winning arguments without making enemies.
But they still insist that the dark-horse appointment marks a
radical departure, one suggesting that Bill Clinton already has
well-formed views on economic policy.
"This is proof that the president will be his own chief
economic adviser," said Robert Z. Lawrence of Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government.
Tyson is certainly a card-carrying member of the economics
establishment. She earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, arguably America's most selective
graduate school in economics.
Under Martin Weitzman, perhaps America's most distinguished
theoretician of planned economies, she wrote a doctoral thesis on
Yugoslav-style socialism. She bagged a first job in Princeton's
elite economics department.
And when she left Princeton to move west with her family, she
managed an appointment to the almost-as-prestigious Berkeley
Tyson's scholarship has not set the academy afire. But, then,
much of it concerned Eastern European economies before the fall
of Communism _ a subject that generated little interest in the
And in any case, academic research is not necessarily the best
proving ground for policy makers. Walter Heller, President John
F. Kennedy's chief economist, was not a particularly
distinguished scholar. But he certainly knew enough economics to
pioneer the use of fiscal fine-tuning in an era when Keynesianism
was often equated with Bolshevism.
What, then, is the beef with the Tyson appointment?
One objection is that she aced out some of the most innovative
and seasoned policy economists around _ most notably, Lawrence H.
Summers, the chief economist for the World Bank. …