Rockefeller Center Direct Line - Fall 2013

Milestone anniversaries are a time for reflection. When the Rockefeller Center was dedicated thirty years ago this week, the world of public policy was very different from today. There was one defining, existential threat – the Soviet Union, and particularly its nuclear arsenal held at bay by threats of mutually assured destruction. It was a challenge not of our own making. Despite their imperfections and the lingering scandals of Watergate a decade earlier, there was a sense that our political institutions could find a way to function in the face of this threat.

Today, we are blessed that this particular nuclear threat has abated. Most of the problems that shape our public policy debates focus on challenges of our own making – a health care system that costs too much for what it delivers, an educational system that no longer offers the widespread promise of upward mobility, inadequate progress against environmental degradation and climate change, and the continued presence of an economic underclass being left behind. Sadly, confidence in our political institutions to contribute to solutions to these challenges is extremely low.

Fortunately, colleges and universities have changed as well. Universities have always been in the knowledge business. The classical university focused on knowledge dissemination in the form of teaching and, later, knowledge production in the form of research. Today, leading colleges and universities are also centers for knowledge translation – bridging the gap between theory and practice in a way that produces tangible improvements in the world.

The admonition to translate knowledge has long been a part of Dartmouth’s aspirations. There are many wonderful examples on campus today, and the staff at the Rockefeller Center and I are happy to be one of them. As the Class of 2017 arrived at Dartmouth last week, they were greeted by a host of opportunities at the Rockefeller Center to learn about public policy in and out of the classroom, on and off campus. With their hard work, our teaching and mentoring, and the support of the larger Dartmouth community, some of them will no doubt be capable public policy leaders in the decades to come. It is our fervent hope and motivating ambition that their reflections thirty years hence will describe the progress they have made in addressing the public policy challenges that we find so intractable today.

Andrew A. Samwick is the Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving '72a, P'10 Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. In 2003 and 2004, he served as chief economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Since joining the Dartmouth faculty in 1994, his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation. Professor Samwick has been published in American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Finance, Journal of Public Economics, and a number of specialized journals and conference volumes. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He blogs about economics, politics, and current events.