ILR Honoring Krueger '83

Groat awardee says White House role "a dream come true"
Groat awardee says White House role "a dream come true"
Friday, March 29, 2013

Alan Krueger '83, receiving ILR's Groat Award Thursday, is President Barack Obama's top economist.

"Being the president's chief economist is a great honor, an awesome responsibility and a dream come true, especially for a president whose 'North Star' is to strengthen economic growth and job creation, and provide more opportunities for people struggling to get into the middle class," he said in an interview.

Krueger begins every day with a 7:45 a.m. meeting in the White House and sees his boss often, especially when the federal budget and job proposals are being discussed.

On leave from Princeton University to head the Council of Economic Advisers, Krueger said his experience as chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor from 1994 to 1995 eased his transition from academia to Washington, D.C., this time around.

President Obama's calm, organized style also helps, said Krueger, named council chairman in 2011 after serving as assistant secretary for economic policy and chief economist at the U.S. Treasury from 2009 to 2010.

In his current role, Krueger said, "My overarching goal is to see the economy continue to recover and to see more Americans go back to work and be able to earn a decent living."

A labor economist, he is widely published on economics of education, terrorism, unemployment, labor demand, income distribution, social insurance, labor market regulation and environmental economics.

In 1987, Krueger received a doctorate in economics from Harvard University and joined the Princeton faculty.

Throughout his career, he has relied on what he learned at ILR, said Krueger, receiving the Groat Award at the Pierre Hotel in New York City.

"ILR introduced me to economics and inspired my interests in using economics to improve people's lives. I learned statistics -- which I use every day on my job -- taking four semesters from Velleman, McCarthy and Blumen and working as their teaching assistant."

"Professors Robert Hutchens and John Burton inspired me as much as anyone to study economics. Professor Hutchens taught a course on economic security that I found mesmerizing."

In his income distribution class, Krueger said Hutchens encouraged him to write a paper on whether workers' pay was commensurate with their marginal productivity.

"I remember he told me that I should only write on this topic if I was comfortable with shades of gray. In one way or another, I have spent most of the rest of my career grappling with this question," Krueger said.

He also remembers telling Hutchens about an idea he wanted to research in workers' compensation insurance and Hutchens suggesting he discuss the idea with Burton.

"I went to Professor Burton's office hours and saw Professor Hutchens leave as I went in. Professor Hutchens had just told Professor Burton about my idea and warned him that I may come to see him. I'm not sure I would have felt so much encouragement at any other college."

"I ended up writing my senior thesis with Professor Burton because of this interaction and we have coauthored papers since then."

Krueger said he was also inspired by Professors Richard Butler, Paul Velleman, Philip G. McCarthy, Robert Smith and Clete Daniel. Professors Jan Svejnar and Mark Gertler of the College of Arts and Sciences School also piqued his interests in economics.

"I never took a class from Ron Ehrenberg, but he gave some guest lectures in Butler's class that I still remember."

Krueger also remembers wandering into an Ives Hall room where Seth Harris '83, now acting U.S. secretary of labor, was studying for Ehrenberg's final exam on evaluation methods.

"I spent the next few hours reviewing the reading assignments and class notes with Seth, and felt like I took the course," said Krueger, a Big Red track team member.

"I did the high jump, but just barely high enough to make the team. In fact, I think they lowered the standard a few inches to let me make the team."

When it came to academics, Krueger said, "I was very serious and hard working. I took good notes. I was enthralled by ideas. I would occasionally come to office hours to discuss the material … I loved studying in Catherwood Library."

Krueger wound up at ILR after his first choice for an undergraduate education, Columbia University, waitlisted him. His parents urged him to attend Cornell, where his older sister was majoring in chemical engineering and chemistry, so they could visit both of them at the same time.

"I was eventually admitted to Columbia from the waitlist. But, by then, I realized that the ILR School was the best choice for me. I could not have been happier with the way things worked out," said Krueger, who has some advice for today's ILR students.

"Follow what you love and take chances. I was planning to be a lawyer, but switched to economics and have never regretted it."