It's been a great experience - I've learned a lot and I have a ton of respect for the quality of research that's done here. I hope in the rest of my career I come across more of Urban's combination of passion for the issues that they look into with objectivity in reporting to clients and the public. I definitely wouldn't have lasted five years here if the Urban Institute was an advocacy organization posing as a research organization.
One of the things I've noticed about Urban since the crisis is that it could probably use a little macroeconomic perspective. There are a lot of deficit hawks here, which is a very good thing. I've worked directly with Bob Reischauer - the president - which impressed upon me the importance of being a smart deficit hawk and a smart entitlement hawk (rather than a slash-and-burn budget-vandal type). But this focus, combined with the expertise on very micro-level solutions to poverty problems has left a lot of the Institute without a strong macroeconoimc voice on the downturn. The people here that know the budget best look at it from a budgeting perspective, not from a demand management perspective. I think this is one area where things could be strengthened. Former Fed governor Ed Gramlich used to work here (I had a chance to work with him on a couple things) before he passed away in late 2007, and I think he would have been a strong voice on this if he were still around. I think a lot of budget people here are well aware of the demand management function of fiscal policy, they simply have dedicated their own careers to more long-term issues: entitlement reform, deficit reduction/tax policy, etc. That's all very important, but approaching it from a different angle would be beneficial too.
Working here has really shaped my career. Doug Wissoker and Burt Barnow have kept my econometric skills sharp, Hal Salzman has gotten me interested in science and engineering labor force issues that I'll probably stick with for a while, and everyone has been interesting and inspiring.
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