Movers and shakers [HEART] Larry Summers!


Annie Lowrey and the Summers of love: Who will be the next Fed chairman, Janet Yellen or Lawrence Summers?

We have no idea. Nor are we positioned to judge the duel on the merits. Over at Slate, Matt Yglesias offers some observations about the way these job hunts work in the case of Summers:
YGLESIAS (8/5/13): The fact that Summers was a bad university administrator doesn’t mean that he’d be a bad Federal Reserve chairman. But it does show that Summers’ friends have a habit of vouching for him when they shouldn’t. Summers turned out to have exactly the flaws Rubin promised the search committee he didn’t have anymore.

Another parallel that strikes me is it was never clear why Summers wanted the Harvard job in the first place. As of 2001 he was an extremely well-regarded economist with no particular background in academic administration or association with any university reform agenda. It just seemed like the most prestigious job he could plausibly get, and so his friends set about to get it for him...
Yglesias says this new job may be like the job as Harvard president. It may just be the best job out there, so Larry Summers' three million friends are doggedly seeking it for him.

This made us think of the way Annie Lowrey quoted Summers’ three million friends in the New York Times last week.

Lowrey’s piece appeared atop page one of Friday’s Business Day section. Essentially, it compared and contrasted Yellen and Summers, the last two real competitors for the job.

It was a familiar type of piece—until Lowrey started quoting Summers’ three million friends. At that point, she went on and on and on and on, like Homer describing the shield of Achilles, the one the great warrior carried into battle against Hector, tamer of horses.

Listing the virtues of Summers, Lowrey executed a damn good Homer impression. In the hard-copy Times, her piece ran 28 paragraphs. Things were proceeding in normal fashion until paragraph 10, when she offered this:
LOWREY (8/2/13): “You can’t find a member of the economic team who is for anyone but Larry,” said a person close to the administration who declined to talk on the record before Mr. Obama makes his decision. “That’s true at Treasury, that’s true at the White House. The reason is, Larry has been through this. Larry brings the right skills to bear here.”
At that point, the floodgates opened, as happened when Homer began describing the brilliant shield crafted by Hephaestus, the crippled smith. Lowrey went on and on, then on and on, quoting various stars, named and unnamed, praising Summers for his supernal greatness.

Yglesias says that Summers has many friends. Rather quickly, we began wondering if Lowrey, a young climber from Summers’ own Harvard, might not be numbered among them!

Lowrey when on and on, then on and on after that. “Several former colleagues said they felt that Mr. Summers’s reputation as being difficult to work with has been overblown,” she wrote. And not only that: “Many officials who enjoyed working with Mr. Summers remain in prominent positions within the White House.”

“Others agreed that Mr. Summers could at times be brusque, but that he also welcomed being challenged,” Lowrey noted. She quoted Stuart Eizenstat and Sheryl Sandberg citing their pal’s favorite line: “Tell me why I’m wrong.”

Lowrey didn’t ask either worthy if Summers had ever acceded to the evidence which was offered in the course of any such challenge.

“People close to White House officials said that many of them considered Mr. Summers perhaps the most brilliant economic policy mind of his generation,” Lowrey said as she continued. “His deep understanding of the economy, concern with unemployment and ability to manage complexity and crisis would make him a stellar Fed chairman, they argue.”

These unnamed sources also “not[ed] how much Mr. Obama likes how Mr. Summers’s mind works,” Lowrey wrote. An unnamed policy expert offered this thought:

“There’s going to be an international crisis at some point, and he’s the guy you want in the room.”

Annie Lowrey wasn’t through with her chronicle of Summerslove. Summers “set himself apart as an economic thinker among Mr. Obama’s advisers and staff members during the 2008 campaign,” she said some former colleagues of his had said. After letting Stephanie Cutter gush about Summers for a full graf, Lowrey offered an additional thought:

“White House insiders said that Mr. Summers’s firsthand management of the Asian financial crises, and the influence of his ideas managing the downturn in 2009, made them more confident at his ability to handle problems that might confront the American economy in the next few years.”

Incredibly, there was more. We invite you to set an afternoon aside and read through all the gushing. To us, it seemed like a strange analysis piece.

But then, we aren’t on the way up! We got the slight impression last week that one young reporter may be.

Janet Yellen comes and goes. Lawrence Summers is endless.


  1. I don't understand this post. Bob says that reporter Annie Lowrey admires Summers and included a lot of positive comments and fewer negative ones. I agree. So what?

    1. The Times had a problem with it. They felt the need to cover it with an innocuous title rather than the correct one - "Summers is Super Awesome".

      The Times appears to believe that licking the boots of a powerful connected insider to advance your own career is embarrassing and unseemly. They need to learn that with readers like you, they can be open about it.

    2. DinC, reporters are meant to maintain an objectivity and not openly adopt a favorable stance on public figures. This article shows complete imbalance in the number of supporters who are quoted as opposed to critics. Complaints about Summers are brushed aside by his friends whose glowing compliments are accepted uncritically. That's not good journalism.

  2. A positive piece about one of the most respected and admired economic minds on the planet (ask Krugman, btw). Horrors!

    1. I got the impression from Last Friday's op-ed (?) that Krugman favors Yellen for the position. Of course, I could be wrong. I refuse to pay for the "pleasure" of reading more than my 10 articles in the NY Times.

    2. Krugman favors Yellen, yes. But I meant even Paul agrees that Larry is a great thinker on economics --- as well as a deft political player.

    3. So Somerby calling out this hand-job of a puff piece as a hand-jobbing puff piece is uncalled for!

  3. Every major problem in government and economics was solved decades ago. We merely have to choose to implement the solutions.

    Anyone talking about the need for smart, creative, new ideas in those fields is too stupid to deserve a public forum.

  4. Give the job to Dean Baker.

    1. Yes, isn't interesting that when Dean Baker writes about Summers, he identifies results, instead of gushing about what a great guy he is to have around? He doesn't think too highly of the outcomes of Summers' policy decisions. Then again, Dean isn't a cheerleader for the rich.

  5. For us, we don't know Annie Lowrey. She could be a decent person doing her job. But Bob is clairvoyant. He can see into her heart. Darlings, she went to Harvard! Can we talk?

    1. If her job was to cast the selection process for head of the Fed as a personality contest, then she did her job.

    2. Stop that!

      Confused clearly fancies himself *quite* the satirist, isn't it our duty to let him go on thinking so?

      Wait, no. No, it isn't.

      Just "doing her job" -- Hilarious!

  6. Lowery's article is crap. It is so one-sided it belongs in The Onion.

    Janet Yellen was one of the earliest voices warning of the "bubble".

    Larry Summers, otoh, claimed it was irresponsible to even DISCUSS regulation of commodities futures.

    President Clinton said he was given bad advice by Summers, Robert Rubin, and Alan Greenspan.

    Rubin said he wan't opposed to regulation, which is a disingenuous statement at best.
    Greenspan is at least willing to admit he was wrong.

  7. Bob Somerby:

    What's so interesting about Lowrey's piece is that, in the blizzard of quotes about Summers, she doesn't actually manage to relay any of what this magnificent mind has ever said himself by which one might judge his purported "brilliance," instead paraphrasing "shocked" "detractors" who "note his arguments for deregulation of parts of the financial industry in the 1990s."

    Luckily for those of us who don't rely on the Times' coverage for information about the world, we can easily find those exact "arguments" from "the 1990s" on the internet, and judge Summers' genius for ourselves.

    Oh look! It appears those "arguments" were in front of Congress, just as it was considering derivatives regulations!

    "Summers's role in the deregulation of derivatives contracts

    On May 7, 1998, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a Concept Release soliciting input from regulators, academics, and practitioners to determine "how best to maintain adequate regulatory safeguards without impairing the ability of the OTC (Over-the-counter) derivatives market to grow and the ability of U.S. entities to remain competitive in the global financial marketplace." [22]

    On July 30, 1998, then-Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Summers testified before the U.S. Congress that "the parties to these kinds of contract are largely sophisticated financial institutions that would appear to be eminently capable of protecting themselves from fraud and counterparty insolvencies."

    Summers, like Greenspan and Rubin who also opposed the concept release, offered no proof that the contracts would not be misused by financial institutions. Instead, Summers stated that "to date there has been no clear evidence of a need for additional regulation of the institutional OTC derivatives market, and we would submit that proponents of such regulation must bear the burden of demonstrating that need." [23]

    In 1999 Summers endorsed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which removed the separation between investment and commercial banks, saying "With this bill, the American financial system takes a major step forward towards the 21st Century."[24]

    So, basically, Larry Summers' apparent nomination for Fed Chair would be like nominating Paul Wolfowitz to handle the 1944 Normandy invasion.

    Remind us, Bob Somerby, what was the New York Times' role in coverage leading up to the "Operation Iraqi Freedom", again?

    ...And what did our young savant Matt Yglesias have to say about the wisdom of that invasion plan in real time, by the way? Can you remember?

  8. Must the Federal Reserve chairman be a 'tribe' member?

  9. Who will be the next Fed chairman, Janet Yellen or Lawrence Summers? london removals

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