Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Larry's Conflicts

I am grateful to the Huffington Post for running my long blog post on Larry's Conflicts. It's way beyond their recommended length, but I decided the story needed to be told one step at a time, because it is so easy to dismiss specific examples. I am very glad that I was finally able to get onto the record some of the material from Summers's deposition in the Shleifer case, as that document is not widely available. Thanks to the journalist who, years ago, gave me a copy.

I also wanted to remind the larger audience that always linking Summers to his NBER speech overstates the significance that had for the faculty, by comparison with his evasions and compromises about the Shleifer mess. The reaction Summers got when he foisted his theory (which he surely got from reading Steve Pinker's book, though he never mentioned that) was largely due to the fact that he had just been talking to women faculty about the tenure track and said nothing of the kind to them. But the Shleifer affair was Summers' real problem; that corruption is what drew faculty from every quarter.

And that clueless arrogance about his own smartness is Summers's most disqualifying liability for the Fed job. Look what happens to the markets when Bernanke hints one thing or another. You don't want someone in this job who loves to attract attention for his cleverness--especially someone with weird ethics about financial conflicts of interest.

At a larger scale, I think about how little anyone now thinks about the merits of humility in leaders. I might have quoted what Eliot (whose name graces Summers's chair) had to say about the incentives for university presidents. Or what James Kabaservice quotes from Plato's Republic in the front matter to his book about Kingman Brewster:
If we want the best among our Guardians, we must take those naturally fitted to watch over a commonwealth. They must have the right sort of intelligence and ability; and also they must look upon the commonwealth as their special concern--the sort of concern that is felt for something so closely bound up with oneself that its interest and fortune, for good or ill, are held up to be identical with one's own.
The great and admirable leaders, of universities and the nation, all think that way, don't they?

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