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Serious talk on the economy, and some belly laughs

Austan Goolsbie


It's not often you hear raucous laughter in a talk titled USA and Canada: The Unwinding Relationship? But the speaker, Austan Goolsbee, knows how to work a crowd: this former member of President Barack Obama's team is Daily Show-approved.

Mr. Goolsbee is the former chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. Speaking to a Toronto audience Monday at the Economic Club of Canada, Mr. Goolsbee said a recession such as that which hit the United States takes a long time to correct, and emphasized that America has a long road to recovery. He said that America needs to focus on business and exports in order to turn its economy around.

He also expressed frustration at politics in Washington during the recent debt ceiling crisis and the failure of the supercommittee on deficit reduction, saying "the culture of Washington, D.C., has become utterly dysfunctional and they can get virtually nothing done."

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Mr. Goolsbee leavened his serious subject matter with stories "from the Goolsbie family," punctuated with sound effects and provoking belly laughs from the audience. His experience working with TV showed.

At one point he told the crowd how he gave a wrapped, dead Asian carp to departing chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is passionate about fighting the invasive species. While Mr. Emanuel seemed to hate the joke, Mr. Goolsbie said he later heard Mr. Emanuel commenting it was one of the most thoughtful gifts he'd ever received.

Putting his finger on one of the sensitive areas in U.S.-Canadian relations, moderator Frank McKenna asked about the Keystone XL pipeline project, and whether Canadians weren't "getting kind of screwed on the pricing for quite some time."

Mr. Goolsbee conceded he didn't have any insight on whether Canadians were losing money transporting oil from the Alberta oil sands to the U.S. But he said that those who oppose the pipeline on environmental grounds are being "naive, to think that the tar sands would not be developed if they didn't build that pipeline."

Mr. Goolsbee supported Mr. Obama in his 2004 Senate race and working as his senior economic adviser during his 2008 bid for President, and was subsequently named chair of the CEA. In June of this year he announced his plans to return to University of Chicago to teach.

Eds Note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified the moderator as Mirv Hillier.

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