Summoning Summers?

November 5, 2008 9:11 p.m.
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Am I missing something or are there like four or five completely independent reasons not to appoint Larry Summers Treasury Secretary? I’m really having a hard time understanding this one.

Just at the level of optics, since the economy is issue number one right now (and not just the real economy of jobs and living standards but the financial architecture itself) and you’re trying to look forward not back, why would you pick someone for Treasury who was not only in the Clinton administration but was actually Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. Not understanding that.

Next, management shortcomings and controversial statements about women’s brains that got him canned as President of Harvard.

And on top of that, the new Treasury Secretary will be charged with instituting a beefed up framework of financial sector regulation. But Summers was a key player in the 1990s deregulatory consensus that laid the groundwork for a lot of these problems. Not that that makes him verboten — a lot of other people did too. But it does create an element of of cognitive dissonance going into the job.

I’m not sure any of these strikes against would be determinative in themselves. Perhaps each taken together would not be if the crisis of the moment demanded Summers. But is he really the only one available?

I don’t mean that in a snarky or denigrating sense. Clearly, Summers is an extremely bright and accomplished guy and a highly respected economist. But really, he’s the only person with the economist chops and political instincts to manage this arduous task?

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