The Impact of Summers

1) Thank God that The New Yorker is around to bankroll this kind of ambitious domestic affairs reporting — and kudos to Ryan Lizza for his reportorial feats.

2) On reading the piece, a lengthy profile of Larry Summers that puts the reader inside the room as White House staffers and President Obama grappled with the financial crisis, one can’t help but reflect on the wrongheadedness of those who insist that the Obama Administration is motivated by a desire to turn the country socialist.

3) Even so, anyone who understands the insights of Hayek cannot help but be troubled by passages like this one:

In January, the White House added a half-hour meeting each morning, in which Obama is briefed by the top members of his economic team: Summers, Geithner, Romer, Orszag, and Bernstein. Obama officials said that the extra layers were intended to insure that no one person dominates the economic advice going to the President.
This system was sharply tested during the debate over the fate of G.M. and Chrysler. In mid-March, Summers and eight advisers dealing with the issue met around the conference table in his office. Summers called for a vote: who thought Obama should save Chrysler? The group was deadlocked. Four were in favor and four were against. Summers abstained, but he believed that Chrysler should get another chance at survival, especially since the Italian automaker Fiat had announced that it was willing to take over the company. Austan Goolsbee, who is both the staff director of the PERAB and one of Romer’s deputies at the C.E.A., cast the strongest of the no votes, arguing forcefully that saving Chrysler would damage the long-term prospects of G.M. and Ford, and for that reason Chrysler should be allowed to go bankrupt and be liquidated. Summers and Goolsbee had argued the issue for weeks, and the debate had become a source of friction between them.

4) Here is one narrative of recent events, offered for the sake of argument from 10,000 feet: A huge economic crisis that no one entirely understood came along; the Obama Administration sensibly decided that massive spending and bailouts were preferable to the risk of complete economic collapse; and the American people became understandably alarmed by the level of spending and the greater control taken on by the government, creating a backlash.

Perhaps that back and forth is the best we could have done. But it sure would be nice if the healthy backlash could benefit an opposition party with actual alternative ideas that might be implemented, and a coherent plan in case it should be given the reins of government again in the future. 2010 is coming quick, GOP. If you don’t pour some kind of substantive foundation pretty damn quickly, you’re not going to have anyplace upon which anything worth building can be erected.