Media experience should help Trump's new top economic aide

Media experience should help Trump's new top economic aide
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' DC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' Mexico's immigration chief resigns amid US pressure over migrants MORE has chosen CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow as the next director of the National Economic Council (NEC). For an economist interested in real-world problems, it’s the ultimate opportunity in government. You have great sway over which policies see the light of day, and which ones do not.

Whether serving a Republican or a Democrat, in my experience, elected officials generally want the same thing: economic growth. In that sense, a good economic advisor will break party lines if necessary to obtain the best economic information and analysis possible.

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The NEC is a special place. Situated in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with the director typically having a West Wing office, success is viewed as being an “honest broker” who gains trust across agencies by making sure all voices are heard. 

 

Presidents have had economic advisors (apart from the Council of Economic Advisors) for at least 50 years. The NEC was formally created in 1993 to coordinate the economic policy-making process and provide economic advice to the president.

There have been 12 NEC directors since its inception: 11 men and one woman, Laura Tyson, who served in President Clinton’s White House.

In practice, the NEC is the vehicle for developing economic policies that are consistent with the president’s stated goals. As director, Kudlow will serve a president with an ambitious economic agenda that includes immigration, infrastructure, trade and Wall Street regulation, among other challenges. 

The NEC best serves the president when it strikes the right balance between fluidity and structure. This means Kudlow should seek to organize things in a way that is sufficiently fluid to ensure access to the best and brightest ideas, people and information.

Yet, his approach should be structured enough to ensure that this content is internalized, distilled and dispensed in an accessible, rapid and effective way. This is no easy task. 

In a candid recollection of his NEC days, my Mercatus Center colleague Chuck Blahous said that, regardless of whatever President Bush decided, a meeting had gone well if the discussion stayed on track and all sides walked away feeling like they were heard.

Kudlow’s extensive background in the media will help him with messaging, both inside and outside of the White House. But messaging can only go so far. You cannot defy the laws of economics, and just like the magic mirror on the wall, the markets never lie.

So, as long as Kudlow remains honest with himself and his listeners when speaking publicly, he will continue to have considerable gravitas on the issues. 

President Trump has stated that he likes disagreement and divergent views. This is good news for Kudlow, because as the NEC director, it will be his job to remind others that there are unlimited wants and needs, and limited resources.

Economists are known as the dismal scientists because they are usually the ones to have to remind people there is no such thing as a "free lunch." Needless to say, we are not always the most popular cocktail party dates. If history is any guide, though, there will be little time for cocktail parties.

At the end of every very long day, regardless of what the presidential decides, as the NEC director, you take pride in knowing that you did your best to ensure that the boss understood the full economic implications of a policy decision, one way or another. Then you get up the next day and do it all over again.

At times it will seem like a thankless job, yet Kudlow must be tireless in this pursuit if he has any hope of succeeding. We should all genuinely wish him the best.

Christine McDaniel, a former White House senior trade economist, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.