Larry Summers will always be a whipping boy for the left. I can only imagine that Obama’s appointment of Summers to the National Economic Council still rankles those who had hoped on the campaign trail for a less centrist Obama economic team and instead got Summers.
But the latest charges against him, leveled by Yves Smith, seem a little unfair.
Why hasn’t a group of disgruntled Harvard alumni circulated a statement itemizing the damage that Larry Summers wrought as dean of the University? Yeah, I know, it would be divisive, grown-ups are discouraged from raising uncomfortable questions, or worse, demanding accountability of leaders.
But Summers did a great deal of damage to Harvard, and has a less than operational moral compass.. He clearly aspires to have another big job in DC, like the Fed chair, so it is important to shine a harsh light on his abject performance (and that’s before we get to the biggest issue, that he is a long-standing protege of Bob Rubin, who still seems to wield considerable influence).
From the New York Times:
“Harvard announced Thursday that it would indefinitely suspend construction on a high-tech science complex in the Allston neighborhood of Boston because of money problems….
As part of a larger long-term expansion into Allston — a pet project of Lawrence H. Summers, Dr. Faust’s predecessor at Harvard and now President Obama’s chief economic adviser — the university also bought a string of buildings there over the last 20 years. But many have remained vacant, to the chagrin of Allston residents who have accused the university of buying land and holding onto it….
The charges about the mistakes Summers made in managing Harvard’s assets are probably true. But then again, why would Harvard alums feel especially vituperative toward Summers when almost all other comparable endowments suffered similar losses? In fact, it would have been very difficult for Obama to find any economists active in the market who don’t have terrible losses and bad calls on their recent track record. Such miscues are the simply the price you pay for being an investment manager during a financial crisis.
Furthermore, the line about “a less than operational moral compass” (zing!, by the way) is a link to an earlier post worrying that banks connected to Summers did suspiciously well with the bailouts. I think we can all agree that it doesn’t look good. But that’s how politics works. If you’re going to criticize Summers on that basis — as you should — you should also keep in mind that you don’t have to look too far to find Obama team members with similar records. It’s only fair to judge them the same as Summers, even if they are a little more politically correct.