Obama’s former economic adviser talks rising populism

Eamon Sheehan, Contributing reporter

What do Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders all agree upon? No, not a laissez-faire attitude toward hair style. Rather, all possess a certain fondness for economic populism. On Oct. 6, Christina Romer, an economics professor from University of California, Berkeley, will take on the topic of increasing populistic sentiment and talk about how to create economics policies that work for every citizen.

Recently, many prominent political figures in the U.S. and abroad seem to share an interest in entertaining populist policies. Trump expressed opposition to President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan despite running on a platform to invest $500 billion in infrastructure. Johnson’s Brexit “Leave” campaign made headlines for similar pretense in walking back a claim that they would invest £350 million into the British healthcare system. Sanders, on the other hand, positioned himself throughout the primary process as an anti-corporatist, criticizing the Obama administration for intervening and bailing out failing investment banks. Is the current populist trend in America and abroad simply coincidental or are there underlying problems with the systems of American and European economics that have influenced this shift toward populism?

Romer will speak on campus next Thursday about where economic policy can progress after the Obama administration. Romer has served as advisory to Obama as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and worked closely to construct the stimulus package with Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury from 2009 to 2013. Rather than re-litigate the policies of the Obama administration, Romer will speak about the economic issues of the present within the context populism in American and European politics.

Romer has been an apologist of economic interventionism. Although Keynesian, Romer, in her research on the Great Depression, argued that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs did not rescue the American economy from the Depression, and he should have invested more to combat economic hardship.

Romer will address the topic of reinventing the economy in the face of rapid modernization. Her talk is planned to move past her prior research on the Great Depression and propose new solutions for the issues of today.

Ben Cassleman, economics writer for the website FiveThirtyEight, seems to agree with the pretenses of Romer’s lecture. According to Cassleman,“Obama has made less progress on a set of deeper, structural problems that began years or even decades before the recession.” Citing the fact that the economy has improved under the Obama administration, Casselman mentioned the challenges of America’s receding industrial sector as barriers to future economic policy and growth.

There is also an expectation for Romer to address the increasing popularity among right-wing populists to capitalize the issue of immigration and the contention around free trade. These issues promise to be interesting to the Case Western Reserve University community as election day rolls around.

Romer’s lecture is on Thursday, Oct. 6 from 4:30–6 p.m. in the Wolstein Research Building Room 1413. The lecture is presented by the Economics Department in the Weatherhead School of Management as the part of the Howard T. McMyler Memorial Lecture series.