ALICE RIVLIN - ECONOMIC GURU. Budgets are no wonderland for this Alice
From Alice Rivlin's calendar: Jan. 26-28: Sweden. Publication of book co-edited on the Swedish economy; dinner with the Swedish finance minister.Skip to next paragraph
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Feb. 5: The Gerald Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Mich. Interview for PBS series about the Constitution.
Feb. 11: North Carolina State University. Participant in Emerging Issues Forum with businessman H.Ross Perot and Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts.
Feb. 13: Los Angeles. RAND Corporation, board of advisers on civil justice.
Feb. 18: Puerto Rico. Address business group.
Feb. 23: New York. Time magazine's board of economists.
It's been a busy winter for Alice Rivlin, the economist, author, national economic policy guru, and director of the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. After 12 years in government and 30 years watching it, Mrs. Rivlin is helping the world sort things out. Known for her intellectual honesty, she travels the globe.
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, calls Rivlin ``one of the relatively few policy economists in the country who gets a triple-A rating.'' Dr. Greenspan, head of the consulting firm Townsend-Greenspan in New York, says that politics often enters into policy analysis. But in Rivlin's case, he notes, ``If she says something is a fact, it's a fact.''
She is also lauded for her straightforward manner, forsaking the jargon many economists routinely use. Columnist David Broder writes, ``She is a rare bird - an economist who writes sparklingly clear English, has a sense of humor, and recognizes that her science is something less than precise or perfect.''
The latest wisdom from Rivlin came late in December during a speech at the American Economics Association, where she outlined several suggestions for budget reform. These included:
Put the budget on a two-year cycle. ``The budget is very complicated and time consuming,'' she explains, ``and one way to improve it is not to spend every year doing it.'' Rivlin says she believes this would make government more efficient because agency heads would not have to spend so much time defending their budgets.
Washington should give state and local governments more autonomy. She is a firm believer in block grants, allowing local officials to spend the money as they see fit.
Combine the policy decisions of the Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Treasury into a single agency. She explains, ``Both spending and taxation policy could be considered at once, the same way it is done in European countries by finance ministers.''
Issue only one economic forecast from the government instead of separate ones from the Federal Reserve Board, Congress, and the White House.
Keep the discipline of the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction targets. ``I'm a fiscal conservative - I would not rule out a budget surplus,'' she says.
Rivlin has arrived at these conclusions during a long residence in the capital. She arrived at Brookings in 1957 to work on a PhD in economics from Radcliffe College.
Her first real contact with the government came in 1966 during the excitement of President Lyndon Johnson's ``Great Society.'' She joined the staff of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to evaluate programs and set goals.