Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Summers Miscellany

The week has seen some good and some bad reasoning about why Summers should not be appointed Fed chair. I have blogged several times that the attacks on Summers as being anti-woman were a favor to him, distracting attention from his corruption and lack of self-control, not to mention his poor track record in crisis management. I cringed and the photo of the women in congress lined up to oppose him. So when I read Prof. Sue Goldie's piece in Politico, I rolled my eyes. I think it will be helpful to Summers not because it will change anyone's opinion on Summers's attitude toward women, but because keeping that ball in the air shifts attention away from the real issues. Goldie writes,
I’m responding to comments that have categorized the former Treasury secretary as dismissive of the opinions of others and particularly disparaging of women. The latest example comes from the editorial board of the New York Times, which declared Friday: “Summers’s reputation is replete with evidence of a temperament unsuited to lead the Fed.” Simply put, this is not the Larry Summers I know – and, as one of the many female faculty members whose opportunities were advanced by Larry during his tenure as Harvard president, I’m in a position to know.
If you read the editorial, natch, it doesn't mention women at all.  Goldie is playing three-card monte here. Some of my women friends will hate me for saying this, but I would be happy to stipulate that he doesn't treat women worse than he treats men. The Times editors state it perfectly:
He is known for cooperation when he works with those he perceives as having more power than he does, and for dismissiveness toward those he perceives as less powerful. 
That's about right, and I'll bet he has dealt with more powerful men than powerful women during his career.

I have little interest in completing the character study. Larry's mean-spiritedness verges sometimes into bullying, though I am sure President Obama has never witnessed it. Brooksley Born certainly did. As Michael Greenberger remembers it,
 I walk into Brooksley's office one day; the blood has drained from her face. She's hanging up the telephone; she says to me: "That was Larry Summers. He says, 'You're going to cause the worst financial crisis since the end of World War II'"; that he has, my memory is, 13 bankers in his office who informed him of this. "Stop, right away. No more." ... It was not done in a tactful way, I'm quite confident of that.
Of course, Born might have solved the crisis; she was not the one causing it. Here is just one of many accounts of the worries over Summers as a collaborator in financial regulation.

That is the same man who, as University professor, the highest academic rank at Harvard, and as former president of the university, pleased himself and his finance-tech conference audience by calling a couple of alumni he had known as students "assholes" for wearing neckties when they came to see him:

One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o'clock, there are two possibilities.  One is that they're looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole.(Laughter; applause.)This was the latter case.  Rarely, have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.(Laughter; applause.)
I hope Professor Goldie will watch this video of, as she calls him, "The Larry Summers I Know," and tell us why she is still proud to stand by him.

These are not slips or errors or misbehaviors on Sumners's part. They are calculated and intentional, designed to put various people, including himself, in their proper places–with Summers at the top of the heap.

A few months ago it was said that if Ben Bernanke raised his eyebrow at the wrong time, markets would crash. Why on earth would the President want to risk the economy to such a self-important, manipulative, self-promoter?

The Summers propaganda machine is in full-court press. In Washington, David Axelrod has been called out to testify to Summers's wonderfulness. But the facts don't back up the claims that Summers was a genius about the crash. As David Warsh says, referring to the fall of Lehman Brothers five years ago,
in the aftermath of the panic, Summers didn’t get it right. Under his tutelage Obama gave no clear explanation of what had happened on the eve of the election, offered no convincing narrative of events afterwards, failed in large measure to successfully manage expectations, and, even now, doesn‘t seem to really understand the sequence of events .
Warsh thinks the tide is turning against Summers. I hope he is right. And I hope the President realizes, after all that has been remembered about Summers over the past few months, a confirmation hearing could be a disaster. Does he really want Summers to explain to the Congressional committee that would have to confirm him that government ethical rules are arbitrary and incomprehensible? That there was nothing wrong with his protege Shleifer's self-dealing, even though Shleifer was found to have conspired to defraud the government? That the ridiculous list of lucrative activities in which Summers was engaged while working full time for Harvard poses no worries about conflicts of interest should he re-enter government service?

On to your second choice, Mr. President. You don't need this and neither does the country.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this summary, Harry. I've been trying to understand why people don't seem to want to listen to discussions of Larry Summers' character. I'm convinced that you're right about the wole of the "women against science" issue as a distraction from other aspects of his character. Sue Goldie writes, in effect, that she enjoys a probing debate. That's fine with me: I'm an old debater. She also says that Summers helped her in her career while he was president at Harvard. With regard to how we evaluate her argument in the article, that comment can of course be taken positively or negatively.

    What I now think might be useful is to separate Summers' approach to ethical questions from his character in general. A person who is confused about ethics and feels at a loss when confronted with decisions that involve ethis is a person we don't need to have as Chair of the Fed.