Thursday, August 1, 2013

DeLong asks why the left doesn't heart Larry Summers


Last night on facebook I wrote: "Brad DeLong fights a losing battle on this. I think left-leaning economists that like Larry Summers are just going to have to make peace with the fact that left-leaning non-economists never will."

Krugman thinks it has something to do with what Summers said at Jackson Hole.

I think it's far, far simpler than that. When the left thinks of Larry Summers they think of (1.) female scientists, (2.) Cornel West, (3.) Alan Greenspan/Bob Rubin on a Time magazine cover (and they think the trio's principal purpose was making bankers rich), and (4.) pollution in Africa.

That's it.

That's all most liberals think about when they think of Larry Summers. It's as simple as that. You can probably criticize Larry on all of these counts - certainly 1, 2, and 4 (I am not sure how strenuously on 2... don't know the details) - but it's sad that more people don't acknowledge the breadth and depth of what the man has to offer. I am not sure there's any way around this. The thing about people with strong ideological sensibilities is that when they've tagged someone on being the wrong side of things, it usually sticks. No amount of liberally minded op-eds are going to change the fact that some combination of these four things are what will come to mind for most liberals when they think of Larry Summers.

So here's a question - given that background, is the circus of a Summers confirmation hearing going to be a dealbreaker? I wonder if strategically Yellen is the better bet. I like Romer too, but the weight of opinion seems to really be in Yellen's favor. As Brad's noted in the past, it's not like Summers supporters would have a problem with Yellen.


  1. "When the left thinks of Larry Summers they think of (1.) female scientists, (2.) Cornel West, (3.) Alan Greenspan/Bob Rubin on a Time magazine cover (and they think the trio's principal purpose was making bankers rich), and (4.) pollution in Africa.

    That's it."

    Sorry, but most of that is silly. Maybe you meant it as some kind of inside joke, but if so I am too dense to bet it. That is at best the leftest and the academic leftest of "the left." No. 1 is part of the legacy and the litany, yes, but most of us not in academia have forgotten about the Cornell West controversy and what it was about, never saw the Time Magazine cover (and really wouldn't frame their purpose exactly that way), and have no idea what the reference to Africa is about.

    Just read the comments for what the objections are. Do you have some inside knowledge that the people are not saying what they really feel?

    1. With regard to the issue of Time Magazine that featured Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, and Lawrence Summers as the men who formed the "Committee to Save the World" it is.,16641,19990215,00.html

      As for the reference to Lawrence Summers and is a link to an excerpt of the 1991 memo that got him in a bit of a stir.

      Speaking for myself, my reservations on Lawrence Summers isn't with his statement on women at Harvard, or his dispute with Cornel West, or his involvement in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (sp?) Act that ended the Glass-Steagall Act once and for all, or his axing of CFTC Head Brooksley Born, or even the issue involving Andrei Shleifer. Hell, I'm not even that overly concerned about what some have characterised (rightly or wrongly, and the truth is somewhere in between IMO) as his support for the "Banksters".

      I don't deny that man's intellectual capacity, or doubt the quality of his scholarship, or even his competence as a civil servant.

      My issue with L.H. Summers being nominated as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is the negative baggage that comes along with him - although I have never met him in person, and perhaps the media coverage of him as an imperious primadonna is overblown - he's had too much of that negative stigma attached to him that he hasn't quite shaken off.

      It's for that reason, in spite of his capacity, that if I were in Mr. Obama's shoes I wouldn't even think of letting it out that I'm considering Lawrence Summers as a candidate in the first place - unless I needed to feint people for some uncertain long-term gain, while keeping my final choice close to my vest. XD

  2. I always pictured LS as a guy with "liberal" inclinations but who also understand the financial sector and didn't want to destroy businesses. So, I'd guess leftists sense that too, and hence don't like him...

  3. If you actually read the criticisms of Larry Summers, most focus on his role is deregulation of the financial system.

    For example here is Ezra Klein on the letter from Democratic Senators:
    "Liberal senators hold incredibly strong opinions on the controversial economist. They blame Summers for the financial deregulation of the 1990s, and even if they could forgive that, they resent his opposition in 2010 to the Volcker rule, a proposal in the Dodd-Frank reforms to restrict banks from using deposits to make proprietary trades. That he has taken a bunch of money from Wall Street in the interim doesn’t make them any happier."

    Not a word about any of the issues listed above. Why can't we have a better blogger corps?

    1. Please reread the post.

      Ezra, Dean, and most of the others you could cite are economics savvy. That's a very different bunch than the average non-economist left that has never liked him.

    2. Most of the left blames Summers for his role in weakening regulation and protecting our inefficient and wasteful financial system from proper reform. They also saw his financial acumen at work with respect to the Harvard endowment. They also remember his idiotic remarks about female scientists, but the Federal Reserve isn't charged with the training the next generation of scientists as it is with regulating and managing the economy.

      Who the hell is/was Cornel West? Is there an "l" missing? Who still reads Time magazine, let alone notices what's on the cover of its print edition? What does Larry Summers have to do with African pollution and why should anyone care? Most Americans are more concerned with keeping their job/business, their children getting good jobs and maybe seeing the big banks reigned in a bit, ideally a lot, and that's where they remember Larry Summers and which side he is on.


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