Dark-Horse Economic Adviser Marks Radical Departure for Clinton

Article excerpt

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 organized.

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 faculty.

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 West.

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. …