Obama’s Economic Lunch Guests

Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

President Barack Obama had some economists in for lunch today at the White House, a closed-door affair to talk about — as the White House put it — accelerating economic growth, expanding opportunity and improving the competitiveness of the American economy.

This is the roster, per the White House :

Ben Bernanke Distinguished Fellow in Residence, Brookings Institution

Martin Feldstein, George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Robert Hall, Robert and Carole McNeil Joint Professor of Economics, Stanford University

Kevin Hassett, State Farm James Q. Wilson Chair in American Politics and Culture, American Enterprise Institute

Melissa Kearney, Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland; Director of the Hamilton Project

Luigi Zingales, Robert C. McCormack Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

When the former two-term Federal Reserve chairman and a  former economist at the Fed (Hassett) — lunch with professors from the National Bureau of Economic Research (Glaeser, Zingales and Kearney), statistics surely start flying — if not forks.

“He’s willing to consider new ideas,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said of the president hosting the luncheon. The economists, he said, “aren’t constrained by politics.”

The folks at the NBER are the ones who declare, technically, when recessions start and end. The fallout from the worst recession since the Great Depression — which could have been worse, the way Bernanke has framed the extraordinary actions which the government took on his watch — still weighs heavily at this lunch table.

Add the professor from the Hoover Institution at Stanford and the scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, and the president surely was hearing some contrasting interpretations today.

Then there is this, about Zingales, from Foreign Policy magazine’s 2012 list of the top global thinkers:

“When deficit hawks compare the United States to the ailing economies of Europe, they’re often making a point about America’s unsustainable debt and social welfare spending. But Luigi Zingales, an influential business professor at the University of Chicago, likens the United States to his native Italy for a different reason: They’re both reeling from crony capitalism. Runaway debt and ballooning entitlements, he argues, are merely symptoms of a debilitating disease: widespread collusion between politicians and big business. Zingales left Italy for the States in 1988 to escape a country that “invented the term nepotism and perfected the concept of cronyism,” only to find the phenomenon spreading like a virus in his adopted home.”

Today’s menu was not disclosed.

— Mike Dorning and Margaret Talev contributed to this report.

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