I spoke with Dr Simon Bowmaker
, Professor of Economics at New York University, Stern School of Business. He has recently published When the President Calls: Conversations with Economic Policymakers
(MIT Press, 2019).
His book is a very original and timely contribution on the relationship between US presidents and their economic advisers. The book, 674 pages, is divided into nine sections (one for each president from Nixon to Trump) and 35 chapters (one for each economic adviser of those nine presidents). The book covers 50 years of US history, 1969 to 2019 and is enriched by amazing pictures of the advisers ‘in action’ with their presidents.
What is it like to sit in the Oval Office and discuss policy with the president? To know that the decisions made will affect hundreds of millions of people? To know that the wrong advice could be calamitous? These 35 officials worked in the executive branch in a variety of capacities but all had direct access to the policymaking process and can offer insights about the difficult tradeoffs made on economic policy.
The interviews shed new light, for example, on the thinking behind the Reagan tax cuts, the economic factors that cost George H. W. Bush a second term, the constraints facing policymakers during the financial crisis of 2008, the differences in work styles between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and the Trump administration's early budget process.
We started our conversation talking about the origin of the book and its development. Simon explained how he managed to reach such an impressive number of interviewees. We then discussed the background of the advisers, their relationship with ‘their’ presidents and how they managed to receive their ‘call’. I have asked him if he thinks that in the 50 years covered by the book, the relationship between presidents and advisers has evolved in some direction. He offered a very interesting answer about the alternative sources that today politicians can use to make their own minds.
When the President Calls
offers a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective on US economic policymaking. This is a great new book, original, well written, enjoyable. Many readers would find it interesting and helpful: to begin with, economists, historians, and politicians.
Andrea Bernardi is Senior Lecturer in Employment and Organization Studies at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. He holds a doctorate in Organization Theory from the University of Milan, Bicocca. He has held teaching and research positions in Italy, China and the UK. Among his research interests are the use of history in management studies, the co-operative sector, and Chinese co-operatives. His latest project is looking at health care in China. He is the co-convener of the EAEPE’s permanent track on Co-operative economy and collective ownership