Veteran Harvard economist Martin S. Feldstein—who is stepping down after nearly three decades at the helm of the National Bureau of Economic Research—will be succeeded by James M. Poterba ’80, the current chairman of the MIT economics department.
The handing of the reins to Poterba, who was just a sophomore at the College when Feldstein became president, marks the end of an era for the NBER, a time in which Feldstein “reinvigorated” the bureau turned it into the central institute for economic research.
“He has really turned it into the hub for both meetings and conferences in any interesting area of applied economics, or economics more generally,” said economics professor Lawrence F. Katz of Feldstein. “He sort of single-handedly put the bureau together and deserves infinite credit for its success.”
Economics professor David I. Laibson ’88 said that he has “witnessed 22 years of [Feldstein’s] leadership” and that it has been “a glorious run.”
“It has taken on very challenge that has been thrown at it,” Laibson said. “It’s hard to imagine a period that could have been as successful.”
Feldstein, who is well known for his advocacy of free-market economics, led the NBER from 1977 to 1982, and again since 1984. From 1982 to 1984, he served as chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Feldstein said yesterday that he will continue as “an active NBER researcher” and that he is “delighted with the choice of Jim Poterba as my successor.”
“He is an outstanding economist and a great manager,” Feldstein said. “He will do an excellent job guiding and evolving the NBER.”
Laibson, who said he knows Poterba from Laibson’s days as a graduate student at MIT, added that Poterba is known for his breadth and productivity as a scholar.
“Jim is an important presence internationally for so many different parts of economics,” Laibson said. “It’s impossible to have been an economist during the past two decades and to have not gotten inspiration from his comments at conferences, or from his papers even when he’s not actually in the room.”
Poterba, who could not be reached yesterday, has conducted extensive research on taxation and the financial behavior of households.
He has led the NBER’s Public Economics Research Program for the past 17 years.
—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.