A Changing of the Guard at the National Bureau of Economic Research

Few people outside of academic economists have ever heard of the National Bureau of Economic Research (N.B.E.R.). Within the profession, however, it plays an enormously important role as an information clearinghouse. Through a series of well-attended conferences and the ubiquitous, yellow-jacketed N.B.E.R. Working Paper series (which, by my estimates, may contain more than 13,000 papers by now), the N.B.E.R. serves the critical function of letting economists know what other economists are working on now, as opposed to two or three years from now, when the research actually appears in academic, peer-reviewed journals. (An N.B.E.R. committee is also responsible for deciding the “official” dates in which the economy is in recession.)

Martin Feldstein has been in charge of the N.B.E.R. for the last thirty years, and has enhanced its importance enormously in that time period. I owe a personal debt to Feldstein for treating me so kindly in the three years that I was in the Harvard Society of Fellows. Although office space was at a premium, and I was a complete nobody, Marty gave me a place to work for the full three years. When I accidentally overran the budget of my N.S.F. grant by $5,000, I thought I would have to pay for it out of my own pocket (my entire salary was only $35,000, if I remember correctly, so $5,000 was a substantial sum of money). But Marty stepped in and covered the difference. I hold Feldstein in the highest regard, both as a scholar and as a person.

It was announced today that Feldstein is stepping down as head of the N.B.E.R., and will pass the reins to my dissertation adviser and mentor, Jim Poterba. The choice was so obvious that I can’t say I’m surprised. Nonetheless, I couldn’t be more delighted, both for Poterba and for the profession. This is wonderful news.

Something tells me, though, that after the success of Freakonomics, Poterba is going to insist that I pay out of my own pocket the next time I overrun an N.B.E.R. administered grant!

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  1. Jen says:

    Thanks for the NBER update. As a former Econ grad student, it’s a treat to see info about the NBER in a public forum. I still have dozens of little yellow booklets in my office. A small testament to the exciting contemporaneous work being produced while I assisted my thesis adviser on the latest revisions to a years-old paper for the JPE or AER.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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  2. Stephanie says:

    As a current Harvard student who has had managed to secure an hour or two every year for Feldstein to be involved with my economics organization on campus, I have agree with your high praises of this professor.

    Thanks for the great post.

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  3. Laramie Yazzie says:

    Hi, my name is Laramie Yazzie. I’m a student at Mesa Community College. I have recently attended an ASET Conference with Ethics, Economics, and Freedom as the main topic of discussion. After hearing the first speaker’s presentation on the topics, I have started to think about the future and how all three main points will be affected. How each one will progress in the future? Do you think the year 2009 may not be better than 2008? Reason is the economic recovery is seen as slower than expected, that is why the U.S. is in a deficit. Do you think that Policymakers need new approaches to improve the lives and work prospects to help balance out everything? There are also many different issues that lead to a downward fall for the main points. There are such issues as low-income citizens working, businesses that breaks laws of the land and damage the social contract between its workers and employers. The increase in wages due to the rule of law in low skill jobs that may benefit society allowing participates in the economy. There are many things to be considered when think and trying to figure out the best way to success for all three areas. Also to name one more major issue would be unemployment and retirement funds that will no longer be available to the people of this work environment.

    I would like your personal opinion and elaboration on this very serious topic. This is an issue that I am really bothered by, mainly because I am the future of this generation. There are many things that all young adults should take interest in for the sake of our nation.

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