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Where’s Stiglitz?

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Harper’s cover story in the forthcoming January 2009 edition will carry a compelling account of the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush Administration, entitled “The $10 Trillion Hangover.” It’s co-written by the man that many economists would pick as the most prescient voice in their tribe: Nobel Prize winner and Columbia University professor Joe Stiglitz (Linda J. Bilmes co-authors the piece and Nigel Holmes offers incomparable illustrative graphics). Reading the piece, I kept asking myself, “Why isn’t Stiglitz on the Obama economic team?” Obama needs Stiglitz precisely because of his gadfly nature, constantly pestering us about those stubborn facts that others would just wish away.

And today I see my friend Michael Hirsh at Newsweek is asking exactly the same question:

Where, Mr. Obama, is Joseph Stiglitz? Most pundits have pretty much gone ga-ga over your economic team: The brilliant Larry Summers as head of your National Economic Council. The judicious Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary. The august Paul Volcker as chair of the newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board. But lost amid the cascades of ticker tape is the fact that, astonishingly, you didn’t hire the one expert who’s been right about the financial crisis all along—and whose Nobel Prize-winning ideas will probably be most central to fixing the global economy.

This is not speculation. A source close to Stiglitz told me Thursday that the Columbia University economist has been left out in the cold, even though he was expecting at least an offer. (Stiglitz, traveling in Brazil, could not be reached.) Especially since Stiglitz supported Obama long before most of the others named to his cabinet (at a time when Summers was a key advisor to Hillary Clinton). “Who knows why? Obama has been choosing center-right people,” said the source, an associate of Stiglitz’s who would speak only on condition of anonymity. She went on to say that Stiglitz’s long-time enmity with Summers—whose ideas, Obama said last week, “will be the foundation of all my economic policies”—may be a factor. “Larry’s had it in for Joe for decades,” she said.

The Obama economic policy team is high caliber, no doubt. But is it the best and the brightest? Perhaps not quite.

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