A Gene Sperling Primer

I’m really excited Gene Sperling is going to head up the National Economic Council. I’m a Sperling enthusiast first and foremost because I think he’s one of the best writers and thinkers on constructive economic policy that we have on the progressive side. A lot of the work that’s been done by “our side” over the past ten years is much better at lamenting the sorry state of things than it is at developing concrete ideas for improvement. I know that not everyone agrees with me, but I think Sperling excels at the latter and that the latter is important.

But like him or hate him, I just wish the past week’s worth of commentary on him hadn’t relied so heavily on “six degrees of Robert Rubin” versus “here’s a thinly sourced anecdote from the 1990s.” Sperlings views on economic policy are not a state secret. He published a good book in 2005 or if you want a briefer precis of his views, you can read his 2007 article for Democracy.

He’s also published a lot of shorter stuff for CAP. You can read him on why the tax code is unfair to low-income Americans and should be made more progressive. Or about his proposal for a universal 401(k) program featuring “[g]enerous $2-to-$1 government matching contributions for initial savings of low-income families and $1-to-$1 matches for middle-income families . . . financed in a fiscally responsible manner” by avoiding estate tax repeal. Or here he is in the Washington Monthly talking about the need to go beyond Unemployment Insurance and offer a comprehensive wage insurance program. Here’s some stuff he did for the Huffington Post.

There’s a lot of economic injustice in the world, and there’s a place for high dudgeon in calling it out. That’s not really his strong suit. But there’s also a case for outlying conceptually sound proposals to improve things in a clear and concise manner. That sounds a lot like the National Economic Council chief’s job, I think he was good at it in the late Clinton administration, and I think he’ll be good at it today.