GO
Loading...

Gene Sperling 101

President Obama is said to be ready to name Gene Sperling the chairman of the National Council of Economic Advisers. Mr. Sperling, 52, who held the same job under President Bill Clinton, will succeed Lawrence Summers.

Gene B. Sperling, an American economist and political expert.
Getty Images
Gene B. Sperling, an American economist and political expert.

Here’s a quick biography and reading list for those who want to get up to speed on Mr. Sperling:

A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., he went to college at the University of Minnesota and law school at Yale. He worked for Mario Cuomo, then the governor of New York, in the early 1990s, before joining Mr. Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Sperling worked for the Clinton administration from start to finish — 1993 to 2001. He’s particularly proud of the work he and colleagues did to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has become a big part of federal anti-poverty policy.

On the ideological spectrum, Mr. Sperling falls between centrist and liberal Democrat. It’s probably fair to say he’s to the right of Robert Reich (the prolific writer who was Mr. Clinton’s labor secretary) and to the left of Timothy Geithner (the current Treasury secretary).

Starting in 2001, Mr. Sperling took on a variety of jobs, mostly part time, including a position at the Brookings Institution, as a columnist for Bloomberg News and as an adviser to Goldman Sachs. For much of this period, he worked for the Council on Foreign Relations, where girls’ education around the world was one of his main interests.

In 2006, Mr. Sperling was among a small group of people who gave Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois, advice on early drafts “The Audacity of Hope.” Mr. Sperling ultimately chose to join Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign as its top economic official. After Mrs. Clinton conceded, Mr. Sperling joined Mr. Obama’s campaign.

After the 2008 general election, Mr. Sperling became a senior adviser to Mr. Geithner at the Treasury Department, where they seem to have developed a strong relationship. Mr. Sperling’s main role was to help Mr. Geithner in some areas where he lacked experience, like tax and budget issues.

The clearest statement of Mr. Sperling’s economic views came in his book, “The Pro-Growth Progressive.” Noam Schieber, reviewing the book for The New York Times Book Review, wrote:

If you were inclined to identify Clintonism with a single person other than the big man himself, that person might well be Gene Sperling — a top campaign adviser in 1992; a tireless advocate of fiscal discipline during the first term; an inveterate policy wonk throughout all eight years of the administration. …

More than anything else, “The Pro-Growth Progressive” embodies the neoliberal idea that all problems are solvable if we just set aside ideology and focus on what works. Sperling notes at the outset that resolving trade-related issues requires “deep, honest exploration that does not easily fit within any right-left, pro-globalization-anti-globalization perspective.” Later he writes that “neither progressives nor conservatives have articulated a vision for retirement security” that guarantees a reasonable nest egg while also helping workers invest in equities. Much of the book employs this third-way tone. Yet while Sperling appears to chide both sides equally, his book functions primarily as a useful reproach to progressives who believe that ideological purity requires rejecting market-friendly means.

The book is available on Google Books. An excerpt is here. Mr. Sperling gave a speech to Google employees about the book that you can view here.

Matt Yglesias has collected a group of Mr. Sperling’s other writings here.

William Alden of The Huffington Post has said Mr. Sperling’s work for Goldman Sachs should disqualify him from his new job. Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, and Ezra Klein, of The Washington Post, have disagreed.

After Mr. Clinton left office, Mr. Sperling worked as a consultant for the television show “The West Wing,” making him the rare White House aide with an IMDB page. His wife, Allison Abner was a “West Wing” writer who has also worked on “Without a Trace.”

Contact Politics

  • CNBC NEWSLETTERS

    Get the best of CNBC in your inbox

    To learn more about how we use your information,
    please read our Privacy Policy.
    › Learn More