David R. Henderson  

Larry Summers's Perspective

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In a post yesterday, Tyler Cowen writes, "Here is perspective from Larry Summers." Not here is a perspective from Larry Summers. Not here is Larry Summers's perspective. The implication is that Larry Summers has a good perspective. The issue? Trump.

So let's consider Larry's perspective.

I'll lead by saying that there is much about Trump to criticize. Larry nails much of it. There is much I agree with. But he also repeats a falsehood. And falsehoods don't become true with repetition. He writes:

He [Trump] has invoked standard anti-Semitic tropes in his political advertising.

Here's the ad that WaPost writer Dana Milbank and Larry Summers found anti-Semitic. Bob Murphy does a nice analysis, writing:
The only other commentary I will make is to note the points in the video where Trump identifies enemies, in order to get people to vote for him. I will identify people according to their official demographics, for a purpose that will be clear at the bottom.
0:05 Hillary Clinton (white Christian woman)
0:21 George Soros (Jewish man)
0:22 Janet Yellen (Jewish woman)
0:24 A whole group [20+ people] of financial ministers and central bankers, with all kinds of colors, men and women.
0:33 Obama walking with Prime Minister Abe (I think?) (black Christian man, Japanese man)
0:36 Bill Clinton (white Christian man)
0:44 Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Tony Blair (I think?) (white Christian woman, white Christian man)
0:48 Bill and Hillary Clinton representing "the political establishment" (white Christian man and woman)
0:59 - 1:04 More coverage of "global power structure" with 10+ foreign elites, both sexes and many colors
1:14 Lloyd Blankfein walking to podium at Clinton Global Initiative (Jewish man)
1:15 - 2:00 Video doesn't show any more enemies, but instead shows the average Americans who will save the day.

My friend David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, and not someone who is oblivious to anti-Semitism, writes an even better analysis of the ad, in, as it happens, the Washington Post. The whole thing is worth reading. Here's a slice:
First, and in contrast to almost every article I've read about the ad, suggesting that Jews were somehow featured, the Jews in the ad only appear for a total of about four seconds in a two-minute ad. Second, only Yellen and Soros are identified by name. I doubt 1 in 20 voters even knows who Yellen is, much less her ethnic background. Moreover, neither has a recognizably Jewish name -- if you were going for the anti-Semitic vote, why not use Clinton supporters far more well-known and identifiably Jewish, such as Steven Spielberg, Joe Lieberman, or even Sarah Silverman? I didn't know Yellen is Jewish. Third, Lloyd Blankfein is pictured, but not identified by name. How many voters would recognize Blankfein? I didn't. And how many of those know he's Jewish? Again, I didn't.

And:
Even more puzzling, why would you attack Jewish bankers to appeal to the best-informed segment of white supremacist extremists the same weekend you float the name of a Jewish banker, Steven Mnuchin, formerly of Blankfein's Goldman Sachs, as a possible Treasury secretary? Are the white supremacists supposed to be smart enough recognize Blankfein as a Jew, but not smart enough to know Mnuchin is a Jewish name, or to Google him?

There's so much to criticize about Trump and, in the next few weeks, I'll be doing so. I've held off since his election because I've wanted to see his picks for various Cabinet positions. It's becoming clear that some are as bad as I feared.

But that makes it all the more important not to make phony accusations.

It really shouldn't surprise us much, though, that Larry comes at this the way he does. He's an insider. And, if Elizabeth Warren is to be believed, here's a telling recounting by her of a conversation she had with Larry early in her time in Washington:

After dinner, "Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice," Ms. Warren writes. "I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People -- powerful people -- listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don't criticize other insiders.

Someone who won't criticize other insiders is also someone who is unlikely to be fair in his criticism of outsiders or of competing insiders in the other camp.


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CATEGORIES: moral reasoning




COMMENTS (13 to date)
Philo writes:

I suspect Trump's appeal to anti-Semites was indirect via his anti-Establishmentarianism, since nowadays there are so many Jews in the Establishment. As for the supposed "dog whistles" in some of his ads, no one would expect such devices to be effective, given the general ignorance and unperceptiveness of most anti-Semites: the dogs wouldn't be able to hear the whistle (without help from such sharp-eared observers as Larry Summers).

Wallace Forman writes:

I've been toying with thought that Tyler was trolling - presenting a set of articles with a single disingenuous remark, and leaving it to the readers to decide which was really a more reasonable perspective. On the other hand, given Tyler's Straussianism and Scott Alexander's implicit criticism of Straussian interpretation in one of his recent articles, perhaps Tyler really did think the SSC article was naive.

Capt. J Parker writes:

Tyler Cowen also provided a link to this post by the pseudonymous Scott Alexander that has a lengthy data supported post supporting the same point namely: charges of "open racism" aginst Trump don't stand up to critical analysis. I particularly liked how Scott Alexander calls into question the whole concept of a "dog whistle", racist or otherwise.

Now, here's the real rub: Scott Sumner, who we should all love dearly (because how can you not love the man who is pointing the way out of Milton Friedman's trap of "free markets in everything except the money supply" via a NGDP futures market)
has, along with the mainstream media, gone all in with the not factually supportable allegations of racism, xenophobia and dog whistle politics. When we need Dr. Sumner and the media to defend us against wasteful stimulus, gold bugs and economy wrecking trade warriors, no one will bother listening.

Andrew_FL writes:

Capt. J Parker-

(because how can you not love the man who is pointing the way out of Milton Friedman's trap of "free markets in everything except the money supply" via a NGDP futures market)

This is an amazing parenthetical statement because Scott Sumner is a huge, or should I say YUGE Statist when it comes to the money supply so I really can't fathom how your views came to be so backward on this.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Shayne Cook,
Isn't this the very same Larry Summers who was fired (or forced to resign) as Harvard's President, at least partially due to his own sexist comments and speeches?
No. It’s the same Larry Summers who was fired (or forced to resign) as Harvard’s President at least partially due to an allegedly sexist speech. Read the speech for yourself. Larry was not eloquent--the number of “uhs” must have set a record. But it was not sexist.
With regards to Bob Murphy's (and the other's) "nice analysis of the ad", I can only say that ANYONE who spends that much time and energy parsing one campaign advertisement in that way, solely for those particular religious, ethnic and gender characteristics, should probably spend some time examining their very own unsavory prejudices - and hypocrisies.
You really missed the boat here. There is no way Murphy would have spent that time had not people like Krugman and others alleged that the ad was anti-Semitic. Murphy undertook that analysis to show that it wasn’t.
I visit EconLib for insights in economics, not political diatribe.
Good. I write EconLog to give insights in economics, not political diatribe. You’re presuming a lot about what I’m going to say about Trump. I’ve held off because I want to see the contours of his immigration policy. Immigration policy has a large economic component. But if you don’t want to read what I write about his policies, there’s an easy fix.

[Shayne Cook's comments in this thread have been removed at his request--Econlib Ed.]

Capt. J Parker writes:

@Andrew_FL
IMHO monetary policy directed toward stabilizing the path of NGDP and guided by a futures market in NGDP is preferable to and less statist than the current discretionary system. I don't think commodoty money types have the right answer.

A writes:

This post seems to underestimate the reach and influence of news organizations like Breitbart, and their interaction with fake news content generators. Audiences have been drilled to recognize, for example, George Soros as an instigator of riots. Fake memes are widely spread through social media quoting Soros's intention to destroy America. Trump supporters spread images of Craigslist ads purporting to offer $500 for 1500 protestors.

The Scott Alexander post is, at best, naive. It misses how quickly new codes such as ((( ))) and the Pepe the Frog memes disseminate without losing information content.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Shayne Cook,
First, thank you for a civil response.
You’re welcome. And thank you for seeing it as such.
There's no mention in that statement about Trump policies.
You’re right. I thought it would be clear that I meant Trump policies, but you’re right that I didn’t say so explicitly.
Furthermore, there will be no Trump policies to criticize until AFTER January 20th of next year when he is inaugurated.
It’s important to criticize ideas that are put out as trial balloons. If one waits until it’s an actual policy, one will have waited too long.
But until that time, it's all just political diatribe - just like the campaign was, and just like every campaign is.
Here’s how the dictionary defines diatribe:
a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.
You could argue that my criticism of Larry Summers was forceful, although, as it turns out, more accurate than your forceful criticism, but it was not bitter. Moreover, I have known Larry for 34 years and have tangled with him a little. But if we were in the same room together, as we were once after we tangled, I would not be bitter. And it would not be an act. Indeed, part of my point is that he and I may soon be on the same side in criticizing Trump’s policy proposals, and it would be wise for him not to make scurrilous, unjustified attacks.

Shayne Cook writes:

EconLib Moderator:

Please remove all of my comments to this post. It's my request.

[Your comments on this post have been removed.--Econlib Ed.]

ChrisA writes:

A - you said that 'This post seems to underestimate the reach and influence of news organizations like Breitbart' - just how many readers do you think that Breitbart had? I count myself as a fairly informed person on politics, yet I had never heard of this website before all this recent furore around Bannon. Is it really the case that people in the mid-west were reading some obscure website in large enough numbers to change the result of the election? And that's not even taking into account that the "anti-semitism" was all apparently in code (based on Scott Alexander's essay)', only discernible to the cognoscenti and astute members of the left apparently.

David R. Henderson writes:

@A,
Audiences have been drilled to recognize, for example, George Soros as an instigator of riots. Fake memes are widely spread through social media quoting Soros's intention to destroy America.
And on these sites, do they mention that Soros is Jewish? By the way, I’ve known of Soros ever since he successfully bet against the pound. I’ve known of organizations he has funded. So I’m not exactly in the middle of the distribution of knowledge. What did I not know? That he is Jewish.

A writes:

@ChrisA, Breitbart recently reported 37 million unique visitors. Readership is quite large, and has grown through the election.

@David R. Henderson, typically a site like Breitbart characterizes Jews through associations. An article will describe an anti-borders, globalist agenda, and then populate the examples almost entirely with Jewish writers, politicians, and business people. This article is representative in form, though unusually blatant for directly characterizing "jewishness": http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/09/27/anne-applebaums-russian-style-disinformation-offensive-msm-vs-anti-globalist-right-will-people/. After describing a globalist agenda, the author picks out a preferred example, and provides an emotional hook to stimulate anti-semitic sentiment. In this case, the hook is "And hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned." In the typical Breitbart article, mostly Jewish journalists are tools of globalist, mostly Jewish business people.

Thaomas writes:

I did not know that Soros was Jewish, but I do know that he saved UK from joining the disastrous Euro. Everyone who used the Pound should have a little shrine in their house with a candle lit for George Soros.

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