Larry Summers’ Last Chance

Larry SummersLet me tell you about Larry Summers. He’s an economist and was the Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton. Before him, Robert Rubin was Treasure Secretary, and Summers, being an acolyte of his, continued his strong dollar policies. Now I know that a strong dollar sounds like a good thing, but it isn’t. Politicians love a strong dollar because it makes them feel powerful. But even more important, all of the rich people who are the true constituents of the politicians love a strong dollar. If you have a lot of dollars, a strong dollar is great. If you have to work for a living, a strong dollar is bad.

The economics of this is very simple: if the dollar is strong, imports will be cheap and exports will be uncompetitive. If markets truly were the magical entities that conservatives claim, we would have no trade deficit; instead, our dollar would be worth less and trade would adjust accordingly. But anyway, if you want to decimate American manufacturing, then keep the dollar strong.

Now Larry Summers is a good, even a great economist. So why did he believe in a strong dollar? I don’t know. I guess because he thought it was more important to protect the wealth of the rich than the jobs of the poor. But since the financial crisis of 2008, he has been making lots of sense. So I’m divided in my thinking about him.

Last week, he did a little political science over at the Washington Post, Sometimes, Gridlock Is Good for America. I agree with the title. When Republicans are in the White House, we could use a good deal more gridlock. He even said so when it comes to the Bush Jr years. Of course, Summers is a New Democrat so he thinks the Reagan and Bush Sr years were a-okay! Whatever. But mostly, his point was that we’ve had gridlock in the past as if blanket Republican opposition in the 1960s is the same as blanket Republican filibusters today.

The great Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann took him to task late last week, Gridlock Is No Way to Govern. They come right out swinging:

Larry Summers is a brilliant, award-winning economist. Monday, in his monthly op-ed column for The Post, he opined about politics and history. Our advice, as political scientists, is that Summers should stick to economics.

Then they go onto argue more or less the same thing that is in their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Check it out.

The point is not so much that Summers is wrong. It just bugs me how much all of these elite people prove that we do not live in a meritocracy. Once you get to the level of Larry Summers or Robert Rubin, it doesn’t matter how wrong you are about anything. There is still great demand for your thinking. Meanwhile, an 18 year who old gets arrested for cannabis possession sees his life effectively over.

The nobodies are never given a second chance. The somebodies are never given a last chance. Don’t talk to me about equality of opportunity and don’t mention “meritocracy” except to say that it doesn’t exist—in America anyway.


Last year, I wrote about a tax reform proposal by Larry Summers that I really liked. So I don’t mean to be too hard on him.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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