Stepping Down as NBER President

By Feldstein, Martin | NBER Reporter, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Stepping Down as NBER President


Feldstein, Martin, NBER Reporter


My decision to step down as president of the NBER was a very difficult one. The NBER has been the central focus of my professional life. I have taken great satisfaction from watching the Bureau grow and become the nation's leading economic research organization--and from being able to shape that growth--the new programs, working groups, projects, conferences, and activities like the Summer Institute and the "pin factory visits."

But after 31 years I was ready to be relieved of the day-to-day administrative responsibilities and to have more time to read and think and write. And I also knew it would be in the interest of the NBER, and therefore of the economics profession, to have a new leader for the Bureau who would bring new ideas and new initiatives.

I am so pleased that the very careful and elaborate search process for my successor, directed by a committee chaired by Mike Moskow, reached the decision that Jim Poterba was the right person for the job and that Jim agreed to take it on. I cannot think of anyone who would be a better leader of the NBER in the years ahead--with his breadth of interests in economics, his intellectual ability, the respect that he has in the profession, and his willingness to give of himself for the benefit of the organization. I'm confident that he will do an outstanding job.

The growth and the success of the Bureau has been due to the quality and the enthusiasm of all of those who have participated in the process. What has happened these past three decades was only possible because of the efforts of the Program Directors, the Working Group leaders, and the heads of the individual projects and of the annual conferences. In all of those years, no one whom I asked to assume these leadership roles disappointed me or their colleagues--a remarkable measure of their commitment to these activities. And, of course, the success of the NBER also reflects the participation of the entire family of Research Associates and Faculty Research Fellows. Your participation in meetings and projects, your research and writing--all of those yellow-covered Working Papers and chapters in NBER volumes--have made the NBER what it is today.

Many thanks are in order on this occasion. The NBER's Board of Directors has been an important source of advice and support throughout these years. I am grateful to all of them and, in particular, to those who served as chairmen. Eli Shapiro, who is here tonight, was chairman of the NBER in 1982 when President Reagan asked me to come to Washington as CEA chairman. I asked Eli if he would take over as president while I was in Washington--and promised that I would be back in two years. I remain very grateful to him for what he did then. And since Eli would no longer be Chairman, I asked the late Walter Heller, who was then on our board and who had been President Kennedy's CEA chairman, if he would take over as Chairman of the NBER--thus reinforcing the message that the NBER is a nonpartisan organization.

All of us who have participated in NBER activities have benefited from the small but excellent Bureau staff. They have made it possible to have the conferences, the publications, the program meetings, and the Summer Institute without placing an undue administrative burden on the researchers. They have created and developed the many useful features of the NBER website and the NBER datasets. And the excellent people who have worked on grants administration and on accounting have made it easy and attractive for NBER researchers to manage research grants through the NBER.

Crucial to the management success of the Bureau have been the individuals who worked most closely with me in the NBER administration: Charlie McClure--who was there in the beginning and is here tonight--David Hartman, Geoff Carliner, and Sue Colligan.

When I became NBER president back in 1977 I inherited the responsibility for an organization with a long and glorious history. …

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