The departure Larry Summers, who resigned Tuesday as director of the White House National Economic Council, is not exactly a surprising development. What’s surprising is that he was ever there in the first place.
Obama can hardly keep his economic team intact with unemployment at 9.6 percent. The White House says Summers long planned to leave, which may be true. Who knows? First of all, Obama certainly shouldn’t have said this during his appearance on CNBC Monday.
I have not made any determinations about personnel. I think Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have done an outstanding job, as have my whole economic team. This is tough, the work that they do. They’ve been at it for two years, and they’re going to have a whole range of decisions about family that will factor into this, as well.
Well, there was a determination about personnel, and Summers had finished making his “whole range of decisions,” now hadn’t he? He’s headed to Harvard to “teach and write.”
Summers may have “long planned to leave” IF he didn’t get the Fed Chairmanship, which he didn’t, and IF he wasn’t going to become Treasury Secretary again, which he wasn’t. Word is that Geithner is staying put, which makes sense since ousting your whole economic team looks like an admission you’ve been doing something wrong.
OMB Director Peter Orszag and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer have already departed. They’re claiming “more time with the family” type reasons too, which seems odd. At least Bush made it pretty clear he was firing his economic team two years into his presidency.
Summers has written favorably about business tax cuts and actually served as a staffer for Ronald Reagan.
As president of Harvard following his stint as Treasury Secretary during Clinton’s final years, he criticized African American studies Chair Cornel West for grade inflation and making a hip hop album, resulting in West leaving in a huff for Princeton.
And most famously, Summers said at Harvard that he believed DNA was behind the low number of females holding tenured positions in engineering and science.
This is a perfectly legitimate position. I have no idea if it’s right or wrong, but to say there aren’t differences in the way women in men think is ludicrous, as any man who’s known a woman or woman who’s known a man can tell you. Different thinking may lead to differences in aptitudes. Sorry if it hurts people’s feelings.
Anyway, he was forced out of Harvard for expressing a point of view he said was meant to provoke thoughtful debate, which is deeply ironic.
Obama was willing to take the heat, which never really came. He also took Summers despite Larry’s work under Clinton in dismantling the Glass-Steagell Act, which limited the services banks could provide. Obama himself has said this helped lead to lead to the subpriime mortgage crisis.
And Summers was willing to play a subordinate role to Geithner after being the top dog.
Whatever his background, Summers participated in strict Keynesianism while with Obama, trying to spend our way into economic growth, which hasn’t really worked yet. He leaves with the debt rising, the unemployment rate rising, and the economy lagging, while businesses are afraid to make a move before they understand the huge new bible of financial and health care regulations Summers has helped write for them.
Whether Obama or Summers decided it was time for him to go “teach and write,” it was indeed time.