We at CGD warmly welcome president-elect Barack Obama's appointments of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of Treasury and Lawrence Summers to head the National Economic Council. Both are members of the CGD Board of Directors. This is no coincidence. It reflects the fact that both are tremendously knowledgeable about the problems and challenges faced by the world's poor and are committed to policies to help address those problems -- both in the interests of the poor in the developing world and of the United States itself. That can only be a good thing at a time when the U.S. economy hangs by a thread -- and the thread is sustained and inclusive of growth in developing and emerging market economies such as China, India, and Brazil.
I worked for Larry Summers in the early 1990s, when he was World Bank chief economist and I was director of the policy research department. Among other contributions, he was an early champion of the then-new idea that investing in the health and education of girls pays huge dividends, for the girls themselves and for society (for more on Larry's record on women's issues, read Sheryl Sandberg's column in the Huffington Post; and for up-to-date policy prescriptions on the value of empowering adolescent girls, see Ruth Levine's fine CGD report, Girls Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda).
I am proud that Summers is currently the co-chair of the Center for Global Development Commission on International Migration Data for Development Research, whose final report will be issued early in 2009. The Commission is part of CGD efforts, led by research fellow Michael Clemens, to build solid, empirical knowledge about the impact on sending countries of international migration. As other commentators have noted, there are lots of reasons that Larry is a terrific choice to head the National Economic Council. On top of all these, we will soon have a champion in the White House for collection, organization and analysis of census and survey data to improve knowledge about the impact of international migration on poor people.
Timothy Geithner is described in one thoughtful profile earlier this month as "razor sharp but with an easy way about him." That certainly matches my impressions from his contributions to our board meetings, including the thoughtful remarks he made at our board dinner in 2006. Tim understands the role of multilateral financial institutions: between his time as Undersecretary for International Affairs at the Treasury and his going to head the Federal Reserve in New York, he was a senior official at the IMF. I also find it encouraging that in recent speeches he has referred several times to the problem of high and rising inequality in the United States (see for example this recent Wall Street Journal profile) This suggests to me that Tim also recognizes the risks posed by global inequality and inequality within poor countries, an area of ongoing research here at CGD that has been a particular interest of mine.