President-elect Bill Clinton is surely right to make economic policy the top priority of his incoming Administration. He knows that's what he was elected to do, as he confirmed when he told reporters that the troubling signs in the economy were "what the election was about."
His notion of convening a group of economists and business and labor leaders for several days in December to bat around ideas on the economy--and what ails it--makes more sense for the message it sends than for whatever content it may yield. What counts is the focus on the economy.
Clinton's wish for an Economic Security Council, to parallel the coordinating and advisory functions of the National Security Council, is far more substantive. The need for such a council has long been evident. business week has advocated a body to complement the Council of Economic Advisers, set up after World War II as a group of independent experts with no operating responsibilities, to advise the President. But the cea's influence has waxed and waned according to the strength of the chairman--and it has often been relegated to the sidelines.
What is needed is a system for coordinating policy among the major agencies that deal with economic affairs. As we said in our final issue of 1960, as John F. Kennedy was preparing for his inauguration: "We recommend again that the Administration and the Congress set up a National Economic Council. Made up of the Secretary of the Treasury, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, with other top-ranking officials dealing with economic questions, it would have the basic responsibility for determining economic policy." Add the task of coordination, and that's still our idea of what such a council should do.