WASHINGTON _ Few of her White House predecessors could make a
hyena laugh, but Laura D'Andrea Tyson's quick wit flashes even
when she's translating economic theory into "baby talk" for
What's wrong with the economy?
Why did the White House recently cut its economic growth
estimates so sharply for this year and next?
With massive layoffs still dominating headlines and consumer
confidence in the economy so low, could another recession be in
Whoa, she signals, raising her hands in a gesture that says
there's no need to rush. This afternoon is unusual; she has
already met with President Clinton and has some time to chat.
"Trust me," said a smiling Tyson, the first woman to head the
President's Council of Economic Advisers. "We're starting to do
better. The check is in the mail."
But why is growth so slow, so incredibly sluggish?
"The economy is quite sluggish, not incredibly sluggish," she
corrected in a schoolmarm's tone.
Blame the global recession, she said, huge defense cuts, the
long-term restructuring of American industry, mammoth federal
budget deficits. . .
But why, according to newly revised government data, is the
economy in worse shape now than it was last year, when the
electorate was so upset about pocketbook issues that it ousted
George Bush from the White House?
For a second, the 46-year-old former economics professor from
Bayonne, N.J., frowns in contemplation, then breaks into another
Don't forget, she prods gently, that Bush pulled out all stops
to boost the economy before Election Day. There was a big speedup
in defense spending, and employers were ordered to withhold less
federal tax from workers' paychecks. While those moves made the
economy better last year, they made it worse this year.
Plus, she added, "a lot of income that might have been spent
in '93 was shifted into '92 in anticipation of higher taxes."
Ironically, that was her boss's doing; many people and
businesses spent money in 1992 rather than waiting until this
year because they feared _ correctly _ that if Clinton were
elected, he would raise taxes.
"It's true the recovery is a slower recovery," she said. "But
job creation is starting to look good."
Words to be expected from a political appointee? Maybe.
But Washington insiders, private economists and other people
who know her say Tyson is much more than a cheerleader for the
"People here are very impressed," said Barry P. Bosworth, a
Brookings Institution economist who advised the Carter, Nixon and
Johnson administrations and was initially critical of Tyson's
appointment. "She's very effective and bluntly honest."
When chosen for the job in December, Tyson was a relatively
unknown professor whose classes were popular because she could
explain complex issues in terms any student could understand.
But she's not a macroeconomist _ someone who studies the broad
forces that affect the economy _ and that put her out of the
mainstream. Her specialties are trade, high technology and
After graduating summa cum laude from Smith College in 1969,
Tyson earned a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. She taught four years at Princeton
University and for the last 15 years was at the University of
California at Berkeley.
To join the Clinton Administration, Tyson moved east with her
husband, Erik Tarloff, a screenwriter who has worked on such
shows as "MASH" and "All in the Family." (Her surname Tyson is
from her first marriage).
Tyson and Tarloff have a 10-year-old son, Elliot, who attends
the exclusive Sidwell Friends School with Chelsea Clinton. …