Why is Obama’s Economic Team Bailing Out?

The White House announced Monday that chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, would be leaving his position to return to his professorship at the University of Chicago. Goolsbee, who has been on leave for 4 years, risked losing his tenure if he did not return.

Goolsbee was economic adviser to Obama during his 2004 Senate race, his senior economic adviser in the 2008 Presidential election, and was appointed to the White House Council of Economic Advisers when Obama took office, taking the chairman position when Christina Romer resigned last year in order to return to her professorship at the University of California, Berkeley.

With Goolsbee’s exit, one in a long string of economic advisers leaving their positions for one reason or another, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is the only official left from Obama’s original economic team. With so many economic advisers leaving — Christina Romer as well as chairman Larry Summers, who left early last year, and Jared Bernstein, who left last month — it begs the question, why are they leaving?

Some might say they they’re trying to escape the black hole that is our current economic climate. The economy has been slow to bounce back and Americans are quick to place blame, with Obama’s administration shouldering a significant amount of it. Would you blame someone for wanting to get out of a thankless, high stress job like theirs? Well, maybe you would — after all, in the United States, we expect our civil servants to be, well, servants. We don’t expect government officials to love their jobs, but to do them for the sake of serving the people and bettering the nation.

That might be why many are blaming Goolsbee for “jumping a sinking ship” instead of accepting that he simply wants to return to his job at the University of Chicago. Could it be that the economic outlook is just too gloomy to withstand? Or could it be the anticipation of a 2012 election in which Obama is defeated, possibly leaving Goolsbee and the rest of Obama’s economic team without a job? People are much quicker to believe anything but the truth, especially when the truth is that someone would actually want to be a teacher, one of the few jobs in this country that’s more thankless than the position Goolsbee currently holds.

The most likely reason Obama’s original team has been scattered to the wind is the one that’s been given. Larry Summers returned to Harvard University, Christina Romer also returned to her professorship, and even Jared Bernstein left in order to educate people. In an interview with Public Radio last week, Bernstein said:

I was frustrated not with what was going on inside the White House — it’s the debate going on outside the White House that I have found really very misleading. Lots of assertions and claims made that are factually upside down — the notion that you can aggressively cut spending in the near term and that won’t hurt the economy; or that if you raise anyone’s taxes at any time, any amount, that will crash the economy; or that you can privatize or voucherize a guaranteed medical security and somehow how people will be better off. So one of the things that I hope to do on the outside is help explain on a factual basis how things could work better.

So when you ask why all of Obama’s economic advisers seem to be bailing out, here’s your answer: it’s our nation’s general ignorance. Whether they’re leaving their positions in order to educate the ignorant or because the ignorant are making their jobs unbearably frustrating, that seems to be the best explanation for why Obama’s economic team is “jumping ship”.