Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Who is Austan Goolsbee?

Obama's chief economic adviser - a friend from the University of Chicago, where they both taught - sounds an awful lot like a libertarian (though I don't know if he accepts the label). Check out Goolsbee's New York Times columns, in which he argues that taxes distort retirement planning, denounces banking regulation in China and cites evidence that the free market, not the government, can do the best job of assimilating immigrants. For any of you who have read Freakonomics, Discovery Your Inner Economist, David Friedman's Hidden Order, or anything else in the "use economic thinking to make life more efficient genre, then you'll recognize Goolsbee's style.

"He seems to be the sort of person -- amiable, empirical and reasonable -- you would want at the elbow of a Democratic president, if such there must be," writes George Will, in an interesting profile of Goolsbee.

Goolsbee, like Obama, isn't trying to radically slash the size of the government. Rather, these two share the philosophy that reforms can make government regulations less burdensome. Probably Goolsbee's most famous proposal, which Obama has embraced, is to eliminate the paperwork of income tax filing for the millions of Americans. Under Goolsbee's "Simple Return" plan, 40% of taxpayers who have only one source of income and take only the standard deduction could save 225 million hours and $2 billion in preparation fees by having their W2s sent directly to the IRS instead of sending them in themselves.

Goolsbee was recently in the news when the Canadian press reported that Goolsbee had met with Canadian officials to reassure them that Obama would not radically overhaul NAFTA as president (click here for more on Obama and free trade). Obama denied the story, and I have no idea whether or not it's true. But I'm sure that if it were up to Goolsbee, free trade would be pretty safe.

Here's Goolsbee on free trade in an interview with Marketplace:
"I don't think it helps when you open up trade agreements and see that they're 2,000 pages long, and they look just like the tax code -- that the first three pages are about opening markets, and then the next 1,997 pages are loopholes, giveaways, special protections for individual industries. I mean, that's getting us pretty far from the case for open markets."

1 comment:

Jon said...

>Obama denied the story, and I have no idea whether or not it's true.
>But I'm sure that if it were up to Goolsbee, free trade would be pretty safe.

I'm inclined to agree; my gut-take on the incident was that Goolsbee basically told them exactly what Obama said on the stump: that there are issues of needing to ensure that environmental and labor standards are being met (which probably applied much more to our southern neighbors), but that free trade conceptually was not in danger, that he wasn't going to get on a protectionist trip.

It was probably just easier to deny than to try and re-explain the nuanced difference to a public that didn't understand the difference the first time.