Alice Rivlin Scott J. Ferrell/Getty Images

Keeping US Policymaking Honest

Benjamin Franklin famously told the American people that the US Constitution would provide them with “a republic, if you can keep it.” The same can be said for high-quality policy analysis, which, at least until now, has carried substantial weight in decisions made by US legislators, presidents, and their advisers.

BERKELEY – In a recent appearance here at the University of California, Berkeley, Alice Rivlin expressed optimism about the future of economic policymaking in the United States. What Rivlin – who served as Vice Chair of the US Federal Reserve, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Bill Clinton, and founding Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – thinks about that topic matters a great deal. Indeed, America owes its current system of “technocracy” – which ensures that policymaking follows sound analysis and empirical evidence – more to Rivlin than to any other living human.

When she was younger, however, Rivlin was denied admission to the graduate program at Harvard University’s Littauer Center of Public Administration. Her application was rejected, she was told, because of “unfortunate experiences” with previous admissions of “women of marriageable age.”

In those phrases, you can almost hear the New England Puritans’ unctuous sermonizing about the seduction of Eve by the serpent, and her subsequent temptation of Adam. Of course, when Rivlin helped found the CBO in 1974 she was essentially eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and she was making the rest of us eat from it, too. We are all better for it.