Monday, July 29, 2013

Greider on Summers—the definitive word

The outrage that Larry Summers is even being considered to head the Fed has managed to provoke criticism from many angles.  Summers has this bad tic—he actually believes that his sun-like brilliance is enough to overcome the fact that he is a world-class prick.

He has picked up a bunch of serious critics over the years—none so qualified to discuss this particular decision as William Greider—who still has written the best book on the Fed, Secrets of the Temple.  It's only about 800 pages long so it's really only a thumbnail sketch considering the complexity of the subject.  But what an intro!  I tend to shy away from monetary discussions because there is a great deal of ignorance out there and life is short.  But when someone mentions Greider's magnum opus, I am willing to bet this person has done their homework.

And I see that even the New York Times has now voiced objections.  Considering how much water Larry Summers has carried for the class of people who own and run the Times, this borders on ungrateful.  Fortunately for the NYT, the neoliberals at the Fed have a DEEP bench.  I would imagine the top 1000 positions in the Federal Reserve system are staffed by folks who are amazingly loyal to the conventional wisdom.  If there is a heterodox full-employment economist buried at the Fed somewhere, I certainly haven't heard of him / her and I keep watch for such things.

Stop Larry Summers Before He Messes Up Again

William Greider on July 20, 2013

Washington insiders are spreading an alarming news alert. Barack Obama, I am told, is on the brink of making a terrible mistake by appointing Lawrence Summers as the new chairman of the Federal Reserve. That sounds improbable, since Summers is a toxic retread from the old boys’ network and a nettlesome egotist who offended just about everyone during his previous tours in government. More to the point, Summers was a central player in the grave governing errors that led to the financial collapse and a ruined economy.

Surely not, I thought, when I heard the gossip. But my source heard it from the White House. Obama’s senior economic advisers—still dominated by Clintonistas and aging acolytes of Robert Rubin—are pushing the president to choose Summers as the successor to Ben Bernanke, whose term ends in January. And they are urging Obama to make the announcement right now, before the opposition can get organized.

To thwart this ploy, Democratic senators and rank-and-file constituents need to sound the alarm promptly and promise, loud and clear, to vote against Summers if Obama once again accepts the choice of the Clinton-Rubin crowd. The former Harvard president was himself a Wall Street player between his government positions. He was a soft-on-banks adviser to Obama during the president’s first term. Choosing Summers now would be another great gift to the mega-banks. But it would be a very tough vote for Democrats who claim the mantle of reform.

There are many reasons to oppose Summers as Fed chair, but the strongest objection is that Obama would be rewarding the same guys who got things disastrously wrong for the country—the Clinton-Rubin policy makers who danced to Wall Street’s tune of financial deregulation and collaborated with the Greenspan Fed and Wall Street to gut prudential regulation like the Glass-Steagall Act. Those actions set the stage for the crisis that devastated middle-class home owners and working people generally.

Summers was an over-confident cheerleader posing as superior intellect. People called him “the smartest man in the room,” and Summers definitely believed it. As Treasury secretary during Bill Clinton’s second term, Summers personally did the knife work that cut up Brooksley Born, the brave regulator earnestly trying to impose meaningful limits on the explosive derivatives market. He still owes Born—and the country—an apology.

Summers got bounced as president of Harvard for his derogatory remarks about women as scientists. He dissed black professors as inadequate scholars. Personality defects aside, the Democratic party has a huge stake in this decision—whether the money-friendly “New Democrats” who have controlled the party since Bill Clinton will continue to dominate the party’s agenda and smother any attempts to embrace true reform.

When Summers came back to Washington in 2009 as Obama’s chief economic adviser, he pushed aside rival views and once again underestimated the nature of the crisis or how to deal with it. When other Democrats called for much stronger stimulus measures, Summers was a voice for doing less, and he accepted disappointing results as the best that government could do. Obama, alas, adhered to that advice.

Summers has been trying to rewrite his reputation as he campaigns openly this year for the Federal Reserve appointment. The Washington Post offered him a prime pulpit for a series of op-ed columns in which he makes himself sound like a bleeding-heart liberal. Don’t be misled. If opponents dig into his old speeches and over-confident pronouncements, they will find rich material to make the case for rejecting him. The question is not about left or right policy decisions. The question is incompetence.

The best reason to turn Summers out to pasture is that Obama has a far better choice available—a more experienced central banker and moderately liberal economist named Janet Yellen. She is vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington and has been a close ally of Bernanke and a strong voice for focusing on jobs and other threatening weaknesses in the broad economy. She served for some years as president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank and before that a term as governor before Obama appointed her as vice chair.

It doesn’t hurt that Yellen would be the first woman ever to serve as Federal Reserve chair. It’s about time. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the central bank. The stolid masculinity of this cloistered institution has failed the country spectacularly and needs to be pried open for public policy debates. The most chilling failure was that its conservative leaders—Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke—did not see the crisis that was coming (evidently neither did Yellen).

That institution’s reputation has been gravely diminished by the bank bailouts and other adverse events. The public was shocked and remains deeply skeptical. People don’t trust the Federal Reserve, and for good reason. What people could see with their own eyes was that the Fed expended trillions to rescue the mega-banks from the troubled waters while people were left to drown. The illegitimate banker-government relationship has exposed an urgent need for fundamental reforms.

Obama might ask himself which candidate would be most likely to restore public trust in the Fed and see the need for substantial reforms. The smart guy from the old boys’ club or an experienced woman who is ready to make history? more

No More Second Chances for Larry Summers
William Greider on July 24, 2013

Among his other outstanding attributes, Lawrence Summers is perhaps most distinguished by his mendacity. I have encountered this up close over the years in interviews. He bristles and turns nasty when his assertions are challenged. I am not naïve about untruth in politics—I know it well—but Summers takes it to extremes. Three years ago, he made an appearance on the PBS NewHour that blew out my tolerance. I posted an exasperated blog titled “Professor Pants-on-Fire.”

“How can I say this nicely?” I wrote. “Larry Summers is a clumsy public liar. His noxious, condescending manner helps explain why he failed as president of Harvard. But it is the crude mendacity that ought to bother people now. The man is President Obama’s top economic adviser.”

I ticked off some of the self-serving lies he told to cover up his own role in destabilizing the financial system when he was Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration—when he personally blocked tougher regulation on the financial time bombs known as derivatives, when he collaborated with Republicans and the Federal Reserve in dismantling Glass-Steagall and other New Deal protections. Larry and Bill, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan paved the road to financial collapse. Afterwards, nobody went to jail.

These scandalous matters are relevant once again because the White House propagandists are pushing hard to make Larry Summers the next Federal Reserve chairman. If Obama makes that choice, Wall Street wins again. Summers is their candidate and at home in their money culture. As Fed chair, he would become their main watchdog .

If so, this will be a sick joke on us hopeful voters who re-elected the president last fall. Summers worked on Wall Street after he got bounced as Harvard president and before he joined the Obama administration in 2009. During the year before, he earned $5.2 million at a leading hedge fund, D.E. Shaw.

Then he made another $2.8 million for speeches, more than forty of them, mostly delivered to audiences at mega-banks and leading financial firms. These included JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and others. Goldman Sachs paid him $135,000 for one speech. When Summers learned Merrill Lynch was receiving federal bailout money, he gracefully contributed his $45,000 speaking fee to charity. The point is, this watchdog will know some of the swindlers personally.

These sticking points about his nomination for the Fed chair may be obvious to Nation readers, but none of his liabilities or gross errors or giant fibs were mentioned by Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein when announced on Tuesday that Summers is now the leading candidate for the Fed appointment. That news quickly swept the web as though it were a done deal. Let’s hope that is wrong. Klein is a conscientious policy wonk and often insightful about economic policy but on political questions he can sound like an establishment camp follower.

Klein took the feed from his White House sources and obediently recited the supposed virtues they see in Summers compared point by point with the rival contender, Fed vice chair Janet Yellen. “Rightly or wrongly,” Klein wrote, “there’s a sense that Summers has the market’s trust in a way Yellen doesn’t.” That put-down is a nasty bit of knife work sure to please Klein’s sources, but is truly slanderous if you know Yellen’s biography and intellectual stature. If the White House blather and media ignorance prevail, it will be sad for the country and shameful for Obama.

Does the Clinton-Rubin establishment believe, like Larry Summers, that boys really are smarter than girls? Reporters like Klein should ask, because that’s the way it looks. Women at large should mobilize an aggressive pushback—no more second chances for Larry Summers. The Obama administration should impose a glass ceiling on the old boys who got it wrong. more

1 comment:

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