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Published: Sunday, 10/17/2010

A Nobel idea

IN CHINA and Myanmar, winners of Nobel prizes are kept in prison or under house arrest. In the United States, that's not done. Instead, a Nobel laureate is being held hostage to the partisan machinations of Republicans in the Senate.

Most Americans probably never heard of Peter Diamond before he won the Nobel Prize in economics last week. Economists, unless they work in a president's administration, tend to fly under the popular radar.

The Senate, however, has heard of Mr. Diamond, a professor for more than four decades at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other economists say he's brilliant. Senate Republicans say he doesn't have enough experience to serve on the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors.

Mr. Diamond and two other economists won the Nobel Prize for their research on unemployment. Specifically, they examined how government policies can help people find jobs or ease the impact of joblessness. As the Fed mulls policies to try to put 15 million Americans back to work, Mr. Diamond's experience would appear absolutely relevant.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) is thought to be holding up the nomination. In August, he complained that the economist didn't have on-the-job experience setting monetary policy. Of course, there is no job that trains people to be on the Fed board. Everyone, including Mr. Diamond's former student, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, learned by doing.

A “hold” is a parliamentary tactic that lets a senator keep an issue from being voted on by implicitly threatening to filibuster. In its most nefarious form, the hold is placed secretly, so voters don't know who's to blame.

This year, Mr. Shelby took the concept a giant leap forward when he put a blanket hold on some 70 Obama nominees in an attempt to secure earmarks worth billions of dollars to his home state. His hold on the Diamond nomination is of the more garden variety, but it highlights the need at least to limit this abused senatorial prerogative.

Mr. Diamond is held hostage to election-year maneuvering. America is denied the services of a man recognized by nearly everyone except Mr. Shelby as one of the best economic minds in the world.

Victor Williams, a Catholic University law professor, argued in the Huffington Post last week that President Obama should ignore a GOP ploy to prevent recess appointments and name Mr. Diamond to the Fed board. With unemployment hovering near 10 percent nationally, the idea is worth considering.



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