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Sunday, January 29, 2012

 
Larry Summers Epitomizes What's Wrong with the World

by David Atkins

Watching this Krishnan Guru-Murthy interview with Larry Summers is enough to make any decent person want to punch a hole through a wall:



Felix Salmon has a pretty good take on it:

So I was very happy to see that Krishnan Guru-Murthy at least tried to ask Summers these questions earlier this week. Krishnan starts off with standard Summers-interview questions, asking him what he thinks about UK fiscal policy, and Summers gives his standard wise-man answers. But then Krishan gets steadily tougher, asking Summers about the advice he gave the president-elect in 2008, and eventually about his deregulatory tenure at Treasury.

And Summers doesn’t even come close to apologizing, or admitting that he made any kind of mistake at all. Quite the opposite: he starts getting very touchy, telling Krishnan that he’s reducing complex questions to overly simplistic black-and-white narratives. Halfway through the interview, Krishnan asks Summers whether laissez-faire capitalism isn’t working for the middle classes. And Summers pushes back. “I’m a Democrat,” he says, adding that “I’ve long been someone who favored significant interventions to protect the environment.”

“Protect the environment?” responds Krishnan. “Didn’t you advise the president not to sign up to Kyoto?”

“No, no,” replies Summers.

“You didn’t?”

“No. I advised that an agreement be designed in order to protect the American economy, and the United States not take on obligations that would render its businesses uncompetitive.”

Summers never explains how this differs from advice not to sign up to Kyoto, nor does he give an example of any “significant interventions” he pushed for to protect the environment.

On deregulation, he's even more disgusting. Summers' answer to probing questions on his role in creating the bubble economy:

Would it have been better if the whole of the 2010 financial reform legislation had passed in 1999 or 1998 or 1992? Yes, of course it would have been better. But at the time Bill Clinton was president, there essentially were no credit default swaps. So the issue that became a serious problem really wasn’t an issue that was on the horizon… If you want to assign responsibility, If you take a market that essentially didn’t exist in the 1990s, that grew for eight years from 2001 to 2008, and then brought on a major collapse, if you were looking to hold people responsible, you would look to… officials of the Bush Administration. I’m not going to tell you that I foresaw this crisis in all its dimensions, but without sounding like Newt Gingrich here, for you to read two articles that a researcher handed you and sling this stuff is not really to give your viewers a very clear chance.

But Salmon sets the record straight:
Summers is absolutely wrong about credit derivatives not existing in the late 1990s. He was Treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001; Euromoney Magazine had splashed the words “Credit Derivatives” all over its front cover in March 1996. And Brooksley Born, between 1996 and 1999, was literally losing sleep over those things as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Summers’s response to Born? To make sure she was marginalized, and, eventually, pushed out of her job entirely.

Elections come and go. Presidents come and go. But the only way things will change is if people like Bob Rubin, Phil Gramm, Larry Summers and anyone in their remotest orbits are explicitly exiled from power for all the world to see. The troubles with the Obama Administration began from the moment they picked financial advisers prior to even taking office.javascript:void(0)

There is hope, though, in the likes of Darcy Burner and Elizabeth Warren. If the country can survive that long, 2016 and 2020 might be the time when the Larry Summerses of the world are finally given the boot they so richly deserve.

It will probably take a woman, and one not associated with the last 30 years of asset-based Bond-Lord-worshipping fiscal insanity.


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