Kellogg’s visiting associate professor Benjamin Harris discussed his experience in research and policy making this Friday at University Hall. Political Union hosted the speaker, who used his experience to give students advice on pursuing a career in public policy.

Benjamin Harris has seen policy making both at think tanks and in the government and compared the differences between them. Photo by Julio Vazquez / North by Northwestern

Harris recently served as chief economist and economic advisor to former Vice President Joseph Biden. Following his tenure at the White House, Harris became the senior economic policy advisor for Rokos Capital Management — a hedge fund managing company operating from London and Washington D.C.

Harris began the hour-long event describing the lead-up to his career on Capitol Hill.

After graduating from Tufts in 1999, Harris went on to work for various D.C. based think tanks, including the Brookings Institute and the Urban Institute. Then, after a year and a half of working for the House Budget Committee, Harris became the policy director of the Hamilton Project.

When asked to compare his experience working in think tanks to advising and working for Biden, Harris explained how information is treated differently. In a think tank, there’s no pressure to expedite conclusions, which allows researchers to gather as much information and analysis as possible to arrive at a robust truth. In the White House, however, time is more of a luxury and information bends in a way to gain “political points” and win arguments.

In an environment where bipartisanship is rare, Harris explained, the pressure to bend information and pass legislation gets tiring.

“I had to write memos [for debate and broadcast] in 20 minutes. The quippy stuff got annoying, especially when considering there are only nine people watching on C-Span.”

The biggest piece of advice Harris gave the crowded room was that if you are seriously considering a career in policy making, keep in mind that you will spend months on research and proposals only to have many of them be rejected upon arrival or rolled back.

When asked about his future career plans, Harris said that if Biden wins the election, he would return to working for him. If Buttigieg, Harris or Warren win the presidential race, Harris’ return to the White House becomes less certain. However, Harris knows for sure that he will not work for Trump or a Bernie Sanders administration.

“It’s not just that Trump hasn’t offered me a job. I think it’s obvious why I wouldn’t work for him.” When it comes to Sanders, Harris believes that the presidential hopeful is too extreme on the economic spectrum to offer him a job.