Super Cities №145 — Larry Summers Surreal Epiphany

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

At sixty-three, Larry Summers had a surreal epiphany

Economists like me see the world through the prism of models, fitted to statistical data and tested against market realities … but there are other ways of gaining understanding about an economy and its workers. This was brought home to me last month when I accompanied my wife on a trip different to any I had ever taken.

Larry Summers — former Harvard president, former Secretary of the Treasury, and Davis representative of a warped class, system, and quasi-religion — just discovered that “the US is a remarkable place because it is amalgam of remarkable places.”

In other words, until a week ago, Summers did not understand the singular strength of the country of his birth.

It is one thing for a high-profile person to be clueless. We see that a lot.

But what makes Summers cluelessness mindnumbing is that, since the 1990s, he has been a central player — part of the starting five — in the world of economic policy.

He has literally promoted policies for people and places he did not understand. Worse, he didn’t know that he didn’t know; Summers was advocating policies for people and places that he did not know that he did not know.

To drive home the depth of detachment, Summers was, somehow, “struck by how remote the concerns of the coasts seemed … the conversations we heard hewed close to local matters.”

For someone who sits with kings and dines with presidents, Summers — and, I presume, his tribespeople — has blind spots the size of Yosemite or, to use an example he can understand, Central Park.

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