New Brainiac: Jason Furman

Photo: The Selby

When Barack Obama named Jason Furman as his chief economic policy adviser back in June, the 37-year-old Harvard-trained economist was a controversial choice. Labor-union officials and Netroots activists were bothered by his outspoken support of free trade and Wal-Mart, and his ties to a think tank founded by former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin. Liberal columnist David Sirota called his ascension a “troubling signal.”

That was then. Six months later, the whiz-kid Ph.D. has won over even his staunchest detractors with his neo-Keynesian geniality. One left-of-center journalist says he became a fan of Furman’s during a briefing at the Democratic convention. “You had these sharp, world-class economists with big egos subtly and unsubtly elbowing each other. And in the middle was Jason like a cheerful rubber ghost—Casper, maybe—making jokes and calming everything down. He presided over the chaos in a way that gave you total confidence he’d be great.”

A native New Yorker with a swanky family pedigree—his mother runs a charitable foundation, and his father, a real-estate developer, has donated more than $20 million to NYU—Furman is expected to be named deputy director of the National Economic Council. His boss will be Larry Summers—“probably the greatest economist alive today,” Furman says. He spends his days at the transition office, hammering out the details of Obama’s massive stimulus plan. “It’s infrastructure. It’s health care. It’s energy. It’s food stamps. It’s everything,” he says wearily. And what if the $800 billion injection doesn’t work? “Please don’t worry,” says Furman, cheerful as ever. “I don’t want you to worry. The reality is, we can always come back a year later and do more.”

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New Brainiac: Jason Furman