Sunday, August 18, 2013

Three People Worth Reading About: Summers, Parker, Dobelle

A grab bag for Sunday evening reading.

On his Economic Principals site, David Warsh wonders (as I have often enough) why there has been so little interest in Larry Summers' complicity in the mess Andrei Shleifer created during the years when Harvard was charged by the U.S. government with helping the new Russian state create an honest capitalist economy. This sorry business cost Harvard tens of millions of dollars, and it was Summers's unwillingness even to acknowledge any shame on Harvard's behalf that turned the faculty decisively against him. In this retelling, Warsh adds two novel emphases. First, Warsh notes how privileged and protected Summers has been through his entire career, and how almost none of the journalists and economists who should have made the Shleifer affair part of their narrative have chosen to do so. By refusing to say anything about this scandal, and by working their network of influence, both Summers and Shleifer have escaped almost unharmed. And second, Warsh wonders if Obama's problems with Vladimir Putin might be traced in part to the Harvard-in-Russia scandal:
The story of Harvard’s Russia scandal may not be well-known in the United States or Great Britain, but its ironies are familiar to well-informed citizens in the former Soviet Union.  Some part of the saga could have gone through Vladimir Putin’s mind in the course of his Dublin meetings with Barack Obama last month; its implications (does he know?  does he know and not care?) may have contributed to the Russian president’s thinly-veiled contempt.
This is not as far-fetched as it may sound to the casual observer. A few years ago I had a chance encounter with a scholar of contemporary Russia, who told me that Putin became enraged when Harvard was mentioned. Is it really possible that Obama is unaware of all this "tawdry affair"?

In the Boston Globe, John Powers has a lovely account of the tribute paid to Harvard's late crew coach Harry Parker. No fair-minded person could read this and not think that, with all the corruption of intercollegiate athletics, there remain a few pockets of dignity, and a few coaches who teach much better lessons than the ones students learn in the average Harvard classroom.

And also in the Globe is the latest chapter in the extraordinary story of survival and prosperity of one Evan Dobelle. Not a household name perhaps, but former president of both Trinity College in Hartford, CT and the University of Hawaii, and currently president of Westfield State University in Massachusetts. A fascinating character for his extravagance and ambition. But what interests me the most in this story is that Dobelle is doing in Massachusetts exactly what he was run out of Hawaii for having done -- playing fast and loose with other people's money. It does make you sympathize with the folks at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, who think there are too many lazy college trustees. Did no one at Westfield, or anyone else responsible for the public trust in Massachusetts, pick up the phone and call anyone in Hawaii? The best that the board chair can say is that "He was the best candidate who was in front of us at that time" -- a classic statement of the bureaucratic principle that if the process was good, no apologies are needed for the result, no matter how dreadful.

Bonus for Globe subscribers: fabulous Dan Wasserman editorial cartoon, drawing parallels between Whitey Bulger and Larry Summers (an analogy I have used myself).

No comments:

Post a Comment