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August 6, 2010

Why Christina Romer Wasn't Destined to Survive the Summer(s)

Leibovitz Obama Economic Team.jpg

Back in February, I analyzed this photo of the new Administration’s economic team.  The picture was taken by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair as part of a series of portraits documenting a new era of hope, and Washington’s  changing of the guard.

What is hard to appreciate now is the extreme crisis atmosphere gripping the White House, with Summers,  Orszag, Geithner and Romer — here not even set up in the building — already in frenzied triage over an economy and a banking industry in free fall.

That fact is critical in understanding the “top layer” of the photo, capturing a set of facial expressions each saying, in individual ways, I haven’t got a damn second to sit for a portrait — even for God. That understood, however, there is other information here that helps explain why the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers has resigned.  Here are some visual observations that help inform the news:

1. Sommers came first, Romer came last.

2. Sommers and Romer, from day one, couldn’t have been further apart.

3. Notice Summers-Orszag-Geithner form a triangle.  From the standpoint of organization dynamics, that’s some pretty daunting geometry to be on the outside off.

4. Did someone say “boys club”?

5. If the Chairwoman was more familiar with “the altitude,” she would never have posed with a binder, appreciating how, especially being the only woman in the group, it might make you look like an admin. Alas, Romer wasn’t up to the power game.

(photo: Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair. From left: LAWRENCE SUMMERS, director, National Economic Council; PETER ORSZAG, director, Office of Management and Budget; TIMOTHY GEITHNER, secretary-designate of the Treasury; CHRISTINA ROMER, chair, Council of Economic Advisers)

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