First Impressions: Washington, D.C.

I suppose the right place to begin this blog post is Evans 10, in my first Macroeconomics lecture at Berkeley. The instructors, a husband and wife dynamic duo, were teaching us about the economic history of the United States starting from the Great Depression. This was a double irony. As Professor David Romer would mention to great laughter, they only had to convince three of their colleagues to literally change history. (Both Professor David Romer and Christina Romer sit on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s business cycle dating committee. A recession only begins when they say so). The second irony was that Professor Christina Romer deeply influenced the most recent economic history of the United States. She was President Obama’s first Chief Economic Adviser and the principle architect of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (more commonly known as the “stimulus package”). I now work where she previously had her office, as an intern for the Council of Economic Advisers. It is because of her and her husband’s teaching and relentless insistence that it is important to get history right, to understand which way causal arrows point, that I am interested in macroeconomics generally and public policy specifically.

Last week was my first week interning on the Council of Economic Advisers so I thought I might share some of my first impressions. To begin, it is a most anxiety-provoking act to walk up to the Secret Service early in the morning. (I was so nervous that I lost my house keys the first day of work. Luckily, the Secret Service does not lose anything and I sheepishly recovered them the next day). My first day of work consisted of some light data analysis as the President and the Chief Economic Adviser are interested in the part-time labor force and youth employment. My day was cut short when one of the research assistants shot us an excited email letting us know that Marine One— the president’s helicopter— was about to take off, spiriting him and Susan Rice to the NATO summit. If we just looked outside we would be able to see the president. (The Council of Economic Advisers is housed in the Eisenhower Executive Office building, which is directly adjacent to the West Wing). After a seemingly interminable wait, the President bounded into his helicopter.

Three things stood out to me from this minor event. First, I did not know that after the President’s helicopter takes off, decoy helicopters rise into the sky as well. Second, I did not know that wherever the President travels, an aide carries a briefcase with the United States’ nuclear codes. (For security reasons, I could not take a picture of any of this). Third, I learned and I continue to learn that those who support the President really care about getting public policy right. The research assistants were excited to see the President. Every day, every single piece of analysis or research that we produce is examined and reexamined with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that only pristine documents reach the senior staff and the President.


David Mkrtchian is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and law. He is interning with the President's Council of Economic Advisors as a Matsui Washington Fellow.