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For the Obama economic team, talk isn’t cheap

By Dave Cook / April 6, 2009



Members of President Obama’s team prove that talking about the economy can pay handsomely even in troubled times for the news business.

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White House financial disclosure forms, released late last week, offer a glimpse into what the President’s top economic advisors earned during 2008 when they were still in private life and writing for newspapers and appearing on cable news channels. The data was first reported in the Washington Post.

Ivy League pay

The best paid of the economic advisors was Lawrence Summers, a former president of Harvard University, who now serves as Director of the President’s National Economic Council. The Financial Times newspaper paid him $34,000 in fees for at least eight columns. That works out to an average of $4,250 per column. There was not much danger of another newspaper topping that offer. And the Financial Times paid Mr. Summers $60,000 for a speaking engagement, according to the disclosure form.

On a per column basis, Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who now is a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, also was well paid for his literary efforts. The New York Times paid him $2,000 for a column, his disclosure report shows.

Opining at $500 a pop

Vice President Joseph Biden’s chief economic advisor, Jared Bernstein, offered his opinions about economic matters on cable television to viewers of CNBC during 2008. The business news channel paid him $70,000 for more than 130 appearances on such programs as “The Kudlow Report” and “Squawk on the Street.” That works out to around $530 per appearance.

Not everyone on the Obama economic team made a killing offering economic opinions. Jason Furman, who had run the Hamilton Project at Brookings Institution and now is Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, was paid $400 for a column he wrote for the Los Angeles Times. That is roughly one tenth of what his current boss, Lawrence Summers, made whenever he shared his thoughts with readers of the Financial Times.

I wonder what we would have to pay to have someone write about the economic theory that explains that pay disparity.