Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Summers Over

It’s Sept. 22, and I’m looking at the news about the departure of Larry Summers from the White House. I agree with most commentators on the left that Summers was a disaster for the country and the Democratic Party. He used his aggressiveness and the confidence Obama placed in him to narrow the range of options given consideration—already well reported in the case of the undersized stimulus, and to be reported in the future on financial reform. (I’m guessing at this, but only a little.) He contributed mightily to the miasma of disappointment that surrounds Obama and encourages the paleolithic right.

I wish I could say that policy post-Larry looks to improve, but it doesn’t. By all indications, Summers faithfully reflected Obama’s own economic predilections, and the next economic team will probably follow down the same path. From a PR point of view, it may matter who the public faces are, but I see no reason to expect a significant mid-course correction. I really, truly hope I’m wrong.

Incidentally, I never got the bit about Summers’ “brilliance”. (Try googling “Larry Summers” and “brilliant”.) I saw him in action only once, on an AEA panel, and, while he was very quick and sure of himself, his comments were not particularly insightful. I’ve read a number of his papers, and I think he’s competent, but his work generally lacks the element of aha-ness I associate with brilliance, as opposed to just getting the job done. Economists often seem smarter than they really are to the general public, because they are so well-schooled in a narrow, formulaic intellectual framework. They have fast answers that are clever, often technically sophisticated, and seem to tie up all the loose ends. In the lingo of an older style of scholarship, mainstream economics offers a “premature totalization”, and the appearance of brilliance without the substance.

10 comments:

Suzan said...

Thank you, Peter.

Wiser words about the unformidable economic "Winters" servant, I have yet to hear.

Kudos!

Suzan

Eleanor said...

I wrote a poem in honor of Summers departure:

Larry Summers is leaving
with his double, double chin.
Can we now escape the trouble
this jerk has put us in?

KC said...

Peter,

Can you stand over it when you say "Economists often seem smarter than they really are".

Seriously? ;-D

They've done a good job of looking really pheckin' idiotic these last few years from where I am... fancy jargon or not!!

Great site, by the way. Seems I've just discovered that some economists actually think critically!

Kaiser

run75441 said...

Just ask Mack and Born how smart Summers really is.

Brenda Rosser said...

What will it take, in terms of disasters, to ensure that the interlocking directorate that Summers represents is broken down once and for all. Narrow self-interest leading to collapse on multiple fronts.

The BP oil spill. Dangerous short cuts taken. The Gulf Loop Current now apparently stalled. With possible huge implications for the global climate.

Suzan said...

Great comment, Brenda!

To unlock that interlocking directorate will take the strength of a determined Atlas.

Atlas really unbound!

S

Jack said...

"What will it take, in terms of disasters, to ensure that the interlocking directorate that Summers represents is broken down once and for all." Brenda

You may as well ask what it takes for a man, or a group of those men, to be willing to give up their distinct advantage. It takes either a personal upheaval or a wide spread disaster. This is the lesson of history. Those that have don't give up their power to retain and increase their wealth. They will hold tight to their entitlement until it is wrenched form their grasp by those yet more powerful or by calamity.

Brenda Rosser said...

Jack: "It takes either a personal upheaval or a wide spread disaster."

I believe that we're there already, though most people don't realise it yet.

Off the topic of multiple and contemporary tipping points: I'm reading a book that was a gift for my birthday. It's called 'American Journeys' by Don Watson (published 2008). He has a fairly lengthy spiel on American political culture within its pages.

He notes that an English journalist observes the 'real' system of government to be an 'elective monarchy'. Then he says a morning talk-show host says its "a republic with democratic institutions...[and] only the 'republic' is non-negotiable.

Watson observes that some Americans find it difficult to grasp that American is "at once a republic and an empire."

This is the thing that I find quite astonishing on American forums, the almost complete lack of discussion about America's empire and its dramatic shaping of the rest of the world; for the worse IMHO.

Watson suggests that reading the 'Memoirs of the Reign of Louis XIV, and the Regency' might be of some help in understanding how 'pre-enlightenment' thought still shapes the institutions.

"[A] democracy transforms the relatively few favors in a monarch's gift sinecure, benefice, patents royal into the vast supply of grace and favor distributed under the rubrics of tax exemption, defense contract, publication, milk subsidy, tenure."

...embedded press....irredeemably infantile reactions to 911 (put my son's name on a bomb and drop it on Iraq)....[fighting terrorism by changing] the face of Islam, to modernise and liberate its adherents from its dark, repressive creed (Bush)...the people of Florida and Ohio now voting on the whole world's behalf.

Brenda Rosser said...

Jack: "It takes either a personal upheaval or a wide spread disaster."

I believe that we're there already, though most people don't realise it yet.

Off the topic of multiple and contemporary tipping points: I'm reading a book that was a gift for my birthday. It's called 'American Journeys' by Don Watson (published 2008). He has a fairly lengthy spiel on American political culture within its pages.

He notes that an English journalist observes the 'real' system of government to be an 'elective monarchy'. Then he says a morning talk-show host says its "a republic with democratic institutions...[and] only the 'republic' is non-negotiable.

Watson observes that some Americans find it difficult to grasp that American is "at once a republic and an empire."

This is the thing that I find quite astonishing on American forums, the almost complete lack of discussion about America's empire and its dramatic shaping of the rest of the world; for the worse IMHO.

Watson suggests that reading the 'Memoirs of the Reign of Louis XIV, and the Regency' might be of some help in understanding how 'pre-enlightenment' thought still shapes the institutions.

"[A] democracy transforms the relatively few favors in a monarch's gift sinecure, benefice, patents royal into the vast supply of grace and favor distributed under the rubrics of tax exemption, defense contract, publication, milk subsidy, tenure."

...embedded press....irredeemably infantile reactions to 911 (put my son's name on a bomb and drop it on Iraq)....[fighting terrorism by changing] the face of Islam, to modernise and liberate its adherents from its dark, repressive creed (Bush)...the people of Florida and Ohio now voting on the whole world's behalf.

Brenda Rosser said...

Sorry, for the repeat. having problems with posting comments for some reason.