The five most influential voices on the economy

Zachary Roth
Senior National Affairs Reporter
The Lookout

With the economy still sluggish and unemployment sky high, 2010 has been marked by fierce debates over the stimulus efforts, taxes, spending, jobless benefits and the deficit. Here's a look at five of the most influential participants in those debates :

1. Paul Ryan -- A Republican congressman from Wisconsin and a former economist, Ryan has provided an intellectual framework for the GOP's tax-cutting, small government agenda. And for better or worse, he's helped get the once-toxic idea of cutting Social Security back into the Washington discussion.

2. Mark Zandi -- Moodys' media-friendly chief economist isn't seen as an ideologue -- which may be why his enthusiastic endorsement of the tax cut deal between President Obama and the GOP carried such weight. He also provided important support (pdf) for the notion that jobless benefits are a particularly effective way to stimulate the economy.

3. Paul Krugman -- The New York Times columnist argued from the start that the stimulus would fail because it was too small -- and now most mainstream economists appear to agree. Not surprisingly, he's also been a prominent critic of the austerity policies currently sweeping Europe.

4. Elizabeth Warren -- The new agency that Congress established this year to regulate financial products on behalf of consumers was Warren's idea. Now she runs it. The Harvard law prof and bankruptcy expert has done more than perhaps anyone else to counter the influence of the financial lobby in Washington.

5. Peter Peterson -- In 2008, the wealthy investment banker and former Nixon Commerce Secretary created a foundation to focus public attention on what he saw as the deficit crisis. This year, President Obama announced a special commission to study the issue, and debate over the how to address the looming shortfall was fierce-- though agreement remained elusive.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)