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Heather Boushey, MA Economics ’96 and PhD Economics ’98, Merges Economic Theory with Praxis to Push for Progressive Change

“I’ve always been very interested in the role of economics and policymaking and in giving people the capacity to live to their full potential,” says Heather Boushey, MA Economics ’96 and PhD Economics ’98. “What is it that creates a strong middle class? What is the role of the private sector and individual firms? How do we get to full employment? But more importantly, how do we get to a place where the typical American family feels economically secure?”

Boushey, who is currently a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, which advises the president of the United States on economic policy, was recently appointed by President Biden to serve in a second role, as chief economist to the Invest in America Cabinet, a key part of his economic team. As the country and the world head toward a possible recession, Boushey is putting the solid foundation in economics she built at The New School for Social Research (NSSR) to work in both of these positions to help steer the country’s economic recovery. She also brings a focus on sustainability to her work.

“The Council of Economic Advisers provides data analysis for the president to help him make solid economic decisions. As a member, one of the things I’m very proud to have been able to work on was helping us think about how we incorporate climate into our macroeconomic growth projections. With a planet that is changing and is no longer stable, that affects how we think about the trajectory of our economy. We can no longer think about economic indicators as existing in a stable planetary environment,” says Boushey.

Boushey developed her economics policy expertise at NSSR, which is well-known for its heterodox approaches to economic theory. Going far beyond the focus on classical theory found in many university economics curricula, the department explores the way political economic insight grows out of an understanding of the history of economics and economic history, molded through the application of cutting-edge theoretical and empirical research tools. “What I got out of the program was a solid understanding of how the economy works and a solid set of analytical tools with which to predict and to understand the economy,” she says. “I was drawn to its heterodox approach and also the embedding of the Economics faculty within the social science faculty and the connection to political theory and the social sciences. It gave me the opportunity to take classes in political science and political theory and even a little sociology, and I gained so much from the richness of that experience.”

She has put this background to extensive use: In addition to serving on the council, she has worked at the Center for American Progress and the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee and was a senior fellow at NSSR’s Schwartz Center for Economic and Policy Analysis. She also co-founded the Washington Center for Equitable Growth with John Podesta in 2013 and served as the president and CEO from 2013 to 2020. The organization works to advance research and policy to help people understand the effects of economic inequality on economic growth and stability.

Given that Boushey has become one of America’s most influential voices on economic policy, one might assume she always had a clear plan for her career. But it was a fortuitous connection with NSSR alumna Michelle Holder, PhD Economics ’13, that helped set her on this path.

“I went straight from undergraduate to this graduate program, and I was young and searching for where I wanted to focus. Michelle is someone that I met right when I started graduate school, and one of the things that really sparked my imagination after meeting her was that she had taken what she learned at The New School and was applying it to policy in New York City.” The two would connect again later when Holder joined the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, following Boushey as president and CEO from 2021 to 2022. She is now a senior fellow. The center has grown into a repository of New School expertise with the addition of Kate Bahn, PhD Economics ’15, as the center’s chief economist and director of Labor Market Policy. “Nothing gave me greater joy than being able to hire a fellow New School alum when Kate applied for a position at Equitable Growth. She’s someone I had met back when she was a graduate student, and to see the way that she’s grown and thrived has been very exciting.” 

Given that NSSR has long attracted students interested in being on the cutting edge of the field, it should be no surprise to see graduates combining theory with praxis to push progressive change in the government, academia, and think tanks. “It has brought me so much joy over the course of my career to be able to work with policymakers—to see change happen and to help people understand the economy around them and how to improve it for American families. We need more people not just focusing on economic theory and empirical work but also engaging in these thorny policy questions that will have a real-world effect.”

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