Lazear Tapped to Lead President's Economic Council

By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

President Bush plans to nominate Stanford University business professor Edward P. Lazear, a specialist in workplace issues, to become chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the White House announced yesterday.

Lazear, if confirmed by the Senate, would become one of the administration's top officials responsible for advising, crafting and marketing the president's economic policies.

White House officials "want someone who is well spoken and can interface well with non-economists," said Philip L. Swagel, former CEA chief of staff and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Lazear, 57, impressed the administration last year when he served as a member of the president's tax reform panel, which proposed a variety of options for simplifying the tax code, Swagel said.

A senior fellow at the Republican-leaning Hoover Institution, Lazear is known as a founder of "personnel economics," which focuses on worker incentives, promotions, age in the workforce, compensation, productivity and entrepreneurship. He also wrote last year that U.S. immigration policy may explain why Mexican immigrants earn lower wages and assimilate more slowly than immigrants from other countries. He earned his PhD at Harvard University and taught at the University of Chicago before moving to Stanford.

"He's very highly regarded among labor economists," said Harry J. Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University who served as chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. "He's a very, very bright guy."

Lazear would become Bush's fifth CEA chairman, replacing Ben S. Bernanke, who is likely to be confirmed today to succeed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Bernanke has served as CEA chair since June, urging Congress to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to adopt the president's recommendations for cutting federal spending. Lazear would be expected to do the same while advocating the president's initiatives this year on health care funding.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week found that 52 percent of the respondents disapproved of Bush's handling of the economy, while 46 percent approved.

White House officials argue that the president deserves more credit for the nation's healthy economy, noting that it grew by a solid 3.5 percent last year and that unemployment has fallen to a relatively low 4.9 percent. But critics counter that many Americans feel economically insecure because of lackluster wage growth, growing poverty and income inequality, and the decisions of many big companies to cut their employees' health and pension benefits.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company