Friday, February 12, 2010

The academic quality of the Council of Economic Advisors

I have ranked the chair and members of the Council of Economic advisors, using number of academic citations from Ideas. The method includes you if you are one of the worlds top 5% most cited economist, and listed on Ideas, as suggested by Greg Mankiw.

The problem with the method is that it gives too much weights to recent times (there are more economists and journals now than there were in 1960, and thus more citations), and to the post-internet age. On the other hand if you were active 30 years ago you have more time to be cited.

The method is decent for the last 30 years or so, which is why I have limited the search to 1980.

By Chair, In order of most citations:

Laura D’Andrea Tyson 1993-1995 (Clinton)

Joseph Stiglitz 1995-1997 (Clinton)

Gregory Mankiw 2003-2005 (Bush W)

Janet Yellen 1997-1999 (Clinton)

Ben Bernanke 2005-2006 (Bush W)

Michael Boskin 1989-1993 (Bush H.W)

Martin Feldstein 1982-1984 (Reagan)

Glenn Hubbard 2001-2003 (Bush W)

Edward Lazear 2006-2009 (Bush W)

Harvey Rosen 2005 (Bush W)

Christina Romer 2009- (Obama)

Charles Schultze 1977-1981 (Carter)

Murray L. Weidenbaum 1981-1982 (Reagan)

Beryl W. Sprinkel 1985-1989 (Reagan)

Martin N. Baily 1999-2001 (Clinton)

By President, average:

1. Clinton 5902
2. Bush H.W 3869
3. Bush W 3609
4. Obama 1252

5. Reagan 1147
6. Carter 776

There are three interesting results:

Clinton did best, thanks to super-star Joseph Stiglitz (who was both a member and a chair).

The Bushes did quite well, thanks to a diverse range of heavy weight economists.

Obama’s councils is pretty weak in comparison to the others, ranking 11 out of 15.

In fairness Romer was refereeing to her staff, not the chair and members alone. Ranking Staff using Mankiw’s method has one big problem: very few of the staff are among the top 5% best economists in the world and included in Ideas list.

That is really not strange. I once asked Casey Mulligan why economists from the University of Chicago were not serving in the Council of Economic Advisors, and he answered that he believed no economist from the department would take the job. If you are one of the top 5% best researchers in the world you probably want to continue to do research, not work with policy (or at worse, politics). If you do join, the high(external)-status chair is one thing, being just a staff member another.

Anyway out of the Of the 20 economists on the list of Romer’s staff, only two, Christopher Carroll (1460 citations) and Andrew Metrick (488 citations) make the list of the worlds 5% most cited economists, which really is pretty good.

Of course would be bizare to claim it is the best in history. Previous staff members and Nobel winners Arrow, Solow and Tobin alone have 3476 citations. (which illustrates another problem of using IDEAS, since Arrow is one of the top 5 most important economists of this century and only does slightly better than respectable but hardly stellar Christopher Carroll).

Soon I will re-do this exercise and look at staff with Google Scholar instead of IDEAS, since the former has more intuitive results. In Google Scholar Arrow's top 10 papers/books have 32,481 citations, and Christopher Carroll 3,576. (If you are curious by this metric Greg Mankiw has 13,090 citations and Christina Romer 2,527).


  1. Here are the list going back to the 1960s. This is why I stopped at 1980. IDEAS top 5% just does not work.

    Walter Heller 1961-1964 (D)

    Gardner Ackley 1964-1968 (D)

    Arthur Okun 1968-1969 (D)

    Paul W. McCracken 1969-1971 (R)

    Herbert Stein 1972-1974 (R)

    Alan Greenspan 1974-1977 (R)

    P.S if you are a new reader of this new blog, for original material I suggest you look at

  2. Why average instead of sum citations?

  3. Why is this important? I don't understand.

  4. It may not be important, but it is relevant since Christina Romer claimed Obama has the best CEA since the 1960s. Earlier I have seen Paul Krugman (who else) claim that Bush only hired hacks for CEA and similar positions.

    Average more than sum, for two reasons. First, some presidents were in office 8 years, other 4. Second, just churning your CEA should not get you a higher score.

  5. I don't quite get it - all the cranks who can't spot a bubble when they're engulfed in it get a higher than zero rating???

  6. I find the, "wouldn't take the job" explanation rather implausible. Consider, 100% of Bush 43 and Obama appointees received their PHD at Harvard or MIT!

    And Taylor describes that the complete dominance of Harvard and MIT in top policy posts extends to Treasury and the IMF.

    Do PHDs from Harvard and Chicago really have dramatically different preferences? That only PHDs from Harvard or MIT are being asked to serve seems a far more likely explanation than only PHDs from Harvard or MIT are willing to accept.

  7. Seems more likely that the kind of economists Chicago are training are the ones who believe that government policy has no role to play in the market. Can anyone imagine Gene Fama on the CEA, for example?

  8. "I once asked Casey Mulligan why economists from the University of Chicago were not serving in the Council of Economic Advisors, and he answered that he believed no economist from the department would take the job."

    What are the chances that any informed president would pick Mulligan for a CEA position?

  9. Where do you get the Tyson number? When I click on your link, I see that only Barro and Shleifer have more citations than Stiglitz.

  10. Not Chicago Phds, Chicago faculty.

    Tyson had Stiglitz as one of the members, plus Alan Blinder.

  11. I guess according to you Austan Goolsbee isn't a professor of economics at Chiacgo.

  12. I explicitly wrote "department", to clarify that it is what he was referring to. Economics department. Goolsbee is a GSB professor.

  13. It seems to me that, in order for the comparison to be really fair, you would have to look at the number of citations that members of the CEA had at the time of being appointed. Otherwise there will be a bias favoring older administrations.

  14. CMG:

    You are right. But how in gods name am I going to do that? On the other hand the more recent we come the more journals, more economists and the more citations (especially in the data I use). So there are two biases going in different directions.

  15. I recall a story (true? I don't know) that sometime in the 80s or 90s a Chicago prof. was explaining to the incoming first-year students, "You'll notice that not many of our faculty are policy jobs in Washington. That's because we think what we do here is more important." I know that indeed used to be the Chicago attitude.

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