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Obama loses a top economic adviser. In this economy, is that a good thing?

White House economist and longtime Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee says he's returning to academia. Considering Americans' views of the slow recovery, perhaps that helps the president.

By Staff writer / June 7, 2011

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee gestures as he addresses the 2010 meeting of Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington in this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo. Goolsbee plans to resign and return to academia, the White House said on June 6.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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Washington

Austan Goolsbee isn’t exactly a household name, though fans of the Daily Show might recognize the White House economist and long-time adviser to President Obama from his bantering appearances with Jon Stewart in recent years.

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In addition to his job, since September, as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), Mr. Goolsbee has also tapped into his skills as a performer to explain economics in lay terms in countless TV interviews and White House videos showing him at the “white board.” As a Yale student, Goolsbee was a member of the improv troupe Just Add Water and a champion debater.

But no amount of verbal gyrations can convince the public that the economy is improving, as the unemployment rate (now 9.1 percent) clicks upward and economic growth remains sluggish. And now Goolsbee is departing Washington to return to his teaching job at the University of Chicago. His stated reason was to preserve his tenured professorship.

“Since I first ran for the US Senate, Austan has been a close friend and one of my most trusted advisers,” Mr. Obama said in a statement Monday night. “Over the past several years, he has helped steer our country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although there is still much work ahead, his insights and counsel have helped lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs. He is one of America’s great economic thinkers.”

Goolsbee will remain involved with Obama, as an outside adviser to his Chicago-based reelection campaign. But the loss of Goolsbee leaves Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as the sole remaining member of Obama’s original economic team. The positive spin is that Obama can now hit the “reset” button with fresh advice addressing the sluggish recovery. But Republicans, well aware that the economy threatens Obama’s reelection, pounded hard on Goolsbee’s impending departure.

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