What should I ask Lawrence H. Summers?

by on July 17, 2017 at 8:14 am in Economics, Education, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Science | Permalink

I will be having a Conversation with him on Sept.6, locale and time to be announced.  In the meantime, what should I ask him?

I thank you all in advance for your sage and balanced judgments.

1 albert magnus July 17, 2017 at 8:21 am

What does he think of the automobile tariffs and bailouts the US has given over the years? Are they worth it? Would it be better if all our cars were made overseas? What is his approach to political/free trade conflicts?

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2 Art Deco July 17, 2017 at 8:28 am

If you’ve read his recent papers, you have an idea of what to ask him. He’s only had brief stints in unimportant positions in government in the last 16 years, so he hasn’t many fresh insights to be derived from that. I suppose you could ask him questions of a memoir sort.

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3 Aylok July 17, 2017 at 8:29 am

You’ve said the rise in the stock market since the election of President Trump is a “sugar high”. Have you gone short with your own assets in accordance with this prediction? If not, should your listeners mark down their confidence in you as prognosticator?

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4 alain July 17, 2017 at 3:33 pm

+1

Best question on the thread.

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5 Todd K July 17, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Have people ever seen Summers as much of a prognosticator? Summers did say a couple of years ago to the Financial Times when asked about Japan:

“I could imagine that, as biotechnology becomes increasingly focused on extending life, that Japan’s ageing population ultimately proves to be a national asset.”

A true visionary!

(Although I’d say due to the biotech and health pills revolution, Japan’s ageing population won’t be a “national asset” but irrelevant. Them machines are coming…)

https://www.ft.com/content/d57e1538-ae32-11e5-b955-1a1d298b6250?mhq5j=e3

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6 carlospln July 18, 2017 at 9:07 am

Ahh, ‘health pills’, once again

‘Butterflies & Moon Beams, & Fairy Tales..’

& Shit for Brains.

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7 Hugh July 17, 2017 at 8:30 am

…. in formulating relevant questions, it would be most helpful to know the overall purpose of your scheduled conversation with Mr Summers. What are you and Mr Summers trying to achieve?

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8 Todd K July 18, 2017 at 12:23 am

As Tyler once said about his conversations:

“I have only come here seeking knowledge
Things they would not teach me off in college”

Wait, that was Sting. Never mind. It’s easy to confuse the two.

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9 Art Deco July 17, 2017 at 8:31 am

You could try asking him questions that Steve Sailer would ask him, and questions that Steve Sailer would not ask him. Here’s one: ask him to assess Richard Lynn’s bibliographies.

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10 Aylok July 17, 2017 at 8:55 am

A Sailerish question: if given the power, would you alter Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policy in terms of size or composition?

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11 Aylok July 17, 2017 at 9:00 am

(Even Summers didn’t kick at this beehive while President.)

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12 Anonymous July 17, 2017 at 10:53 am

Who is innovating in higher ed right now and what are they learning?

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13 MarkB July 19, 2017 at 12:19 am

+1
Excellent question

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14 Jeff July 17, 2017 at 4:46 pm

You could ask him about the question he responded to in 2005 about the underrepresentation of women in science

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15 Ian Maitland July 17, 2017 at 6:45 pm

I second Jeff’s suggestion, though it is probably the last thing Summers would want to touch.

I can’t give you chapter and verse, but of late Summer seems to have eaten a big helping of crow force-fed him by the feminist lobby. Is there really no heavyweight left who dares to call out diversity?

One striking thing about the whole incident was how it completely took Summers by surprise. How could he have not read the tea leaves and expected that his musings on women’s underrepresentation in STEM would ignite a firestorm?
His surprise played right into the stereotype of socially clueless economists (to put it as euphemistically as I can).

On a parochial note, I think “Hostile Takeovers as Breach of Trust” is one of Summers’ (and Shleifer’s) most interesting articles. But it doesn’t persuade. Given the extraordinary contortions that shareholders have to engage in to expropriate the firm’s other stakeholders, the piece ends up proving the opposite of what it intended. Expropriation (aka hold up, etc.) seems to be hard to pull off. I wonder if, in retrospect, Summers agrees that the takeover premium earned by the shareholders of acquired firms (in the ’80s?) did in fact reflect the greater efficiencies takeovers made possible.

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16 Benjamin Cole July 17, 2017 at 8:39 am

Should the Fed move to money-financed fiscal programs?

How about the success of Korekiyo Takahashi, finance minister in Japan, in the Great Depression?

Does Adair Turner make sense?

Would not cutting federal taxes and financing outlays through helicopter drops (that is, effectively convert current outlays to money-financed fiscal programs) make more sense than inventing new outlays?

Would cutting payroll taxes (Social Security taxes) and making up the loss by having the Fed buy Treasuries and place them into the Social Security trust fund make sense?

Do our laws need to be modified to allow this?

And should macroeconomists pay more attention to property zoning, and the interaction of our financial system with mortgages on zoned property? The relationship between trade deficits and house prices?

Why do right-wingers jibber-jabber about the minimum wage constantly, but rarely mention property zoning, which is a much larger structural impediment to growth?

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17 rayward July 17, 2017 at 9:03 am

Social Security: when the trust fund starts selling the almost $3 trillion of Treasury bills, notes, and bonds it holds to fund social security benefits (i.e., when benefits begin to exceed social security tax collections), to whom will the fund sell them? To the public? To China? To the Fed? Senator McConnell has stated many times that if it were up to him the Treasury securities held by the trust fund would never be repaid and would simply be forgiven. Why? Could it be that the trust fund is a scam, the higher regressive payroll taxes enacted to “save” social security were actually just an offset to the large cuts in the progressive income tax, and that repaying the Treasury securities would expose the scam once and for all? Indeed, isn’t the Fed the most likely purchaser of the Treasury securities held by the trust fund?

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18 Brian Donohue July 17, 2017 at 9:36 am

No. The right way to think about the Social Security trust fund is that it represents borrowing by “income tax payers” from “payroll tax payers”. There is a lot of overlap here, but important non-overlap too. Social Security is fine, but income tax payers are in trouble.

Income tax payers have not paid enough over the past few decades. How’s that for a sobering thought? Yet tax rates are high, upper income Americans pay more in income tax than ever, and yet our national debt has ballooned to $20 trillion, but before we can even think about that, we have to contend with a deficit that itself has itself mysteriously ballooned to $670 billion eight years into an economic recovery.

Someone should ask Larry just how malleable the word “austerity” is. Also, isn’t is obvious that some kind of devaluation is the only end game here?

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19 Chappy July 17, 2017 at 10:25 am

So are you implying that you think the taxable maximum for the FICA (i.e. OASDI) should be raised? I mean you’re pointing out that progressive income taxes hurt the rich, but the flipside is that the taxable maximum helps them.

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20 Brian Donohue July 17, 2017 at 10:42 am

Social Security is fine, as I said, and can be fixed with some minor changes. The program is in significant part social insurance, not redistribution, it has been structurally sound for 80+ years, and it should be able to continue without dramatic changes.

We will need more revenue from income taxes. I’m not sure how much we can squeeze out of the new super billionaires or how politically popular a nice, broad-based tax increase would go down, or how much room there is to raise rates on the upper middle class before we get in to Laffer territory. So… devalue.

Bondholders have had a great 35 years, now it’s their turn.

21 rayward July 17, 2017 at 11:29 am

What if Senator Dole had proposed that we adopt a tax increase for payroll tax payers so payroll tax payers could make a loan to income tax payers in the form of a tax cut for income tax payers? Instead, Senator Dole proposed a tax increase for payroll tax payers in order to “save” social security. The lesson learned was that people will believe anything if told by someone they trust and with seeming sincerity. When will that “loan” from payroll tax payers to income tax payers be repaid? It won’t; indeed, it’s more likely that there will be another tax increase for payroll tax payers so they can make another loan to income tax payers, while repeating the same lie that the payroll tax increase is necessary to “save” social security.

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22 Brian Donohue July 17, 2017 at 11:50 am

The loan is being repaid as we speak. The Trust Funds are expected to be exhausted by 2034, at which point there will only be enough coming in to pay 77% of benefits. We can wait until 2034 and deal with the dislocation at that time (the Krugman view), or we can take steps today to tweak the tax and benefit provisions (much less fundamental than the 1977-1983 changes) to avoid the dislocation.

Income tax receipts and disbursements are the real problem. OK, Medicare and health care finance in general are also problems.

But Social Security as an enduring piece of social insurance is its own issue, and it is eminently solvable.

23 Gary SKolnick July 17, 2017 at 8:53 am

Suppose a philanthropist in St. Louis had $100 million to help the city. How should she spend it? Background: poor public schools, elevated crime rates, and severe racial segregation. On the other hand strong universities, top 10 hospital, and a biotechnology hub.

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24 Bob July 17, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Don’t forget balkanized municipalities and continued white flight, barring workers on the still precarious technology district. A fine example of what happens when government jurisdictions get too small, and raise money mostly from people that aren’t residents.

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25 Scoop July 17, 2017 at 9:03 am

In general, ideas and evidence that challenge his stated worldview. You have been way too willing in your interviews to date to tacitly accept whatever your subjects say at face value.

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26 A Definite Beta Guy July 17, 2017 at 9:38 am

That’s a positive.

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27 david b July 17, 2017 at 6:48 pm

I think that the purpose of an interview is to understand another’s worldview, and glean the good from it, rather than to challenge it.

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28 Paul July 17, 2017 at 9:08 am

You could ask him about his work at DE Shaw. Last Paragraph at this link is relevant: https://mathbabe.org/2011/06/24/working-with-larry-summers-part-2/

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29 Brent Buckner July 17, 2017 at 9:08 am

When should we expect him to write his follow-up to his statement: “Many of my friends have recently issued a statement asserting that the Fed should change its inflation target. I suspect, for reasons I will write about in the next few days, that moving away from inflation targeting to something like nominal gross domestic product-level targeting would be a better idea.”
[quoted from http://larrysummers.com/2017/06/14/5-reasons-why-the-fed-may-be-making-a-mistake/ ]

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30 RG Freeman July 17, 2017 at 9:13 am

Please ask Mr. Summers whether he has read Matthew Desmond’s ” Eviction” and as a result whether he views the right to decent housing to be a natural right, a civil right , a constitutional right or in any way eligible for legislative guarantees. Also, it would be interesting to hear his latest thinking on the guaranteed annual income.

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31 Ted Craig July 17, 2017 at 9:14 am

Is the silver lining of the Trump victory (for him) that Sheryl Sandberg is now a legitimate candidate for president in 2020?

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32 Jonathan McMillan July 17, 2017 at 9:22 am

What he thinks about the macroeconomics of fintech: How does fintech change the traditional banking model and how can we prevent some fintech business models from merging into shadow banking?
(Background here: http://www.endofbanking.org/investors-beware-marketplace-lending-praised-larry-summers/)

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33 Scott Mauldin July 17, 2017 at 9:22 am

Are the economic fortunes of Middle America and Coastal America now at odds with one another, such that there is a zero-sum policy spectrum in certain fields like tariffs and immigration? Or are there a set of policy prescriptions that can economically benefit both Middle America and Coastal America, and what might those policy prescriptions be?

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34 msgkings July 17, 2017 at 12:07 pm

+1

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35 JWatts July 17, 2017 at 4:47 pm

+1

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36 Thiago Ribeiro July 17, 2017 at 9:23 am

His protégés broke Argentina and México. Why should Americans let him break America?

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37 CMOT July 17, 2017 at 10:20 am

And his protege Andrei Shleifer stripmined Russia, playing a tangible role in creating the economic chaos that resulted in Putinism.

Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Summers#Support_of_economist_Andrei_Shleifer) goes rather easy on him.

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38 Thiago Ribeiro July 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

The more they fail, the more meddle into other people’s businesses.

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39 Brian Donohue July 17, 2017 at 9:24 am

Can he discuss at length and using examples potentially erroneous charges of unfair favoritism related to groups drawn from the tails of a population made up of largely but not precisely overlapping subpopulations?

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40 Per Kurowski July 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

Does he agree with allowing banks to multiply their net risk adjusted margins more when lending to “the safe” than when lending to “the risky”?

https://subprimeregulations.blogspot.com/2017/07/with-basel-ii-how-many-times-could.html

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41 Howard July 17, 2017 at 9:50 am

If I have a sum of money to donate and am interested in advancing academic research, where should my marginal dollars go? Am I better off contributing to Harvard* or to an institution with a substantially smaller endowment per capita?

*Full disclosure: I went to Princeton, so there’s no way that Harvard is getting my money. But Princeton’s endowment per capita exceeds Harvard’s, so the general form of the question still applies.

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42 per Kurowski July 17, 2017 at 9:54 am

What does he think about the following statement: “Minimum wages just raises the gig economy’s bar; universal basic income would be a step stool that helps to reach up to it.”

https://teawithft.blogspot.com/2017/07/does-right-of-unemployed-to-get-job.html

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43 Thijs July 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

Free movement of capital – good (for equating marginal returns and transferring knowledge) or bad (as financial flows often not invested in productive capital and too fickle)? Assuming it exists, how does secular stagnation figure in this?

Also – are there any cases in the World Bank files that suggest a way for the US policy process to regain its footing?

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44 Per Kurowski July 17, 2017 at 10:05 am

Should not society disinvite Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein from all its events for helping to finance a government that is publicly and notoriously violating human rights?

http://perkurowski.blogspot.com/2017/05/goldman-sachs-lloyd-blankfein-should.html

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45 commentateur July 17, 2017 at 10:15 am

Why is no-one talking about the de-dollarization?

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46 Jeff R July 17, 2017 at 10:25 am

Why is it the public at large is better at handling simple concepts like group average differences than a supposed bastion of rational inquiry like Harvard? What would he propose to do about it?

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47 Hadur July 17, 2017 at 10:29 am

How can Harvard be home to some of the world’s greatest economists, but be so abysmally bad at managing its own multi-billion dollar endowment?

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48 msgkings July 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I would guess because economists are not at all the same thing as portfolio managers

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49 Potato July 18, 2017 at 12:10 am

Who said the endowment was only for growing at the maximum rate? Who even cares or benefits ?

It’s used to give kickbacks to hedge funds managed by….Harvard alumni.

Who rake in huge fees to the tune of billions. I’m shocked at the naïveté.

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50 RobP July 17, 2017 at 10:33 am

Ask about Summers editorial in the Washington Post suggesting to get rid of the $100 bill to “deter tax evasion, terrorism, and crime”. Ask him if its a huge coincidence that his editorial ran during a time when negative interest rates are being debated in public.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/16/its-time-to-kill-the-100-bill/?postshare=8671455627637815&tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.9bfdbabab24c

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51 Per Kurowski July 17, 2017 at 10:34 am

Does he still think that the risk-free rate or the neutral interest rate is not manipulated/distorted (in favor of the sovereign), by bank regulators?

https://subprimeregulations.blogspot.com/2017/07/can-you-have-neutral-interest-rate-when.html

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52 Jack July 17, 2017 at 10:38 am

ask him about freedom on campus to deviate from popular views — especially in light of his own experience. ask him whether his own experience has caused him to hew more closely to orthodox views.

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53 Glenn Hefner July 17, 2017 at 10:51 am

Please ask him how to reduce the US’s GINI coefficient, over the short term and structurally. Basically, how to start growing the middle class again, while shrinking the poor and the very rich.

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54 Jim WH July 17, 2017 at 10:52 am

Tyler, your interview questions generally tend to be overwrought and contrived to show off your vast knowledge or detailed homework of the interviewee’s domain/work. Please don’t do that.

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55 Todd K July 17, 2017 at 11:04 am

You could ask Summers if he buys your productivity story that there was only a big increase in the mid 90s. I’d also like to hear why he said a couple of years ago that “Japan keeps falling further and further behind” when its per capita growth rate has been almost the same as the UK and the US since 2000. Thanks!

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56 Question July 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm

If he went back to the World Bank, what would he do differently?

Jeff Bezos asked for advice on how to be a great philantropist. Any suggestions?

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57 LKH July 17, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Any opinions regarding the newfound appreciation for federalism/decentralism among liberal ranks?

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58 Per Kurowski July 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Why was robots and automation a non-issue in the last election and so it all got tilted towards walls?

http://perkurowski.blogspot.com/2012/04/we-need-worthy-and-decent-unemployments.html

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59 Garett Jones July 17, 2017 at 12:14 pm

What’s the current Frisch elasticity of labor supply for non-college educated males in the U.S.?

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60 Mike Sierra July 17, 2017 at 12:17 pm

I’d ask what he thinks of the revised ETA in the repair work on the Longfellow Bridge.

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61 Hemant Kumar July 17, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Mr.Summers was famously (infamously?) dismissive of Raghuram Rajan (circa 2005-06) when the latter warned about the possibility of a financial meltdown due to newfangled derivatives and excessive leverage. He (Summers) has had to consume quite a good quantity of humble pie as a result.
Question: how does the economics profession avoid the emergence of such ‘spurious consensus’ as in the case of the ‘no systemic risk’ opinion pre-2008? How does the profession make sure that dissenting voices are given a better hearing? What, in his opinion, are economists most complacent about right now (which could bite their collective behinds 5 – 10 years from today)?

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62 Techy July 17, 2017 at 12:37 pm

1) In your experience with various economic agencies (Council of Economic Advisers, Fed, World Bank) how much of each agency’s decision-makers’ time is spent studying, discussing and working on problems of the day? the quarter? the year? the decade? How much time do they really spend thinking about and how much weight do their give to what the best policies might be for a 20-year time horizon? Does Professor Summer think that each agency’s decision-makers are taking too short, too long or a just right perspective when discussing and implementing their policies?

2) How much of macroeconomics as taught to undergraduates does Professor Summers think still represents the best understanding of the field? What new models have emerged in the last 20 years that Professor Summers thinks should be added to undergraduate curricula and what older models should be removed?

3) Has anyone yet published a good framework for monetary policy that accounts for the ‘leakage’ or spill-over’ effects between currency zones and how those can or should be modeled or taken into account when projecting the impact of policy on investment, trade and savings? If so, whose framework or paper(s) does he recommend on that topic?

4) Which countries or currency zones does he think are doing the best job of managing their macroeconomic policies? What are they doing differently that the U.S? And does he think in general that other country’s best economic policies are relevant or could be easily ported to or adopted to different economies and cultures with similar results?

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63 Some Other Tom (I Forget Which) July 17, 2017 at 12:47 pm

What was Kenneth Arrow’s biggest mistake? Did he recognize it might be a mistake, and persist in it notwithstanding this recognition, or did he not see it as potentially one?

Many economists are themselves the offspring or family members of other economists (like Summers himself), even more than is the case in most other professions. Should we think of this as a feature, that these people are even better economists, or a bug, that something about the economist mindset or path is too restrictive to people who don’t know how to order the right kind of sandwich, in David Brooks’ phrasing? If a bug, how would he address the issue?

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64 Ray Lopez July 17, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Ask him who is the greatest living economist besides himself?

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65 Philip Gahtan July 17, 2017 at 1:39 pm

How would he have done Russia today.

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66 TheRealInterest July 17, 2017 at 1:39 pm

What factors enter Harvard’s utility function? Given those factors, is Q at an optimal level?

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67 Thanatos Savehn July 17, 2017 at 1:54 pm

What are the implications for Macro of people building their own machine learning algos from R or Python, scraping free financial data from the web and letting their digital selves make the investing decisions; all while they mine crypto from the comfort of their homes?

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68 Potato July 18, 2017 at 12:19 am

The whole point is that the information you want isn’t public.

Or, it’s public but the short term cost of arbitrage is greater than your credit line.

The truth is you can know the market will turn. You don’t know the exact timing, and unless your pockets are deep you can’t keep meeting the margin calls on your position forever. Wall Street dudes have to be on this board sometimes.

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69 Paul Sas July 17, 2017 at 2:50 pm

No one’s mentioned his unique biography – His piece on Ken Arrow’s death mentions being at a party watching his uncle Ken debate his Uncle Paul (Samuelson).

Did his family background amplify or moderate his “smartest guy in the room” attitude?

I personally find it of interest that he was a debater in college at MIT, but others above have raised more interesting topics

Definitely agree with #45 (Jim WH), but perhaps you can’t help but show off.

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70 Michael Kevane www.favl.org July 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Explore, suspending judgment (and personal ties like with Sandberg), why and how communication utilities like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter should be regulated to serve the public interest. Are there scenarios where you would favor outright nationalization? If not, what makes these utilities different from other public utilities? Is your position that the right amount of regulation oversight exists currently? If so, given that they will accumulate political power as they grow, should they take a turn “against” the public interest and common good, might it not then be too late to regulate or nationalize? Given your own proclivity to favor deregulated and non-public activities as in the financial industry, did the crisis of 2008 moderate your optimism about outcomes, and does that apply across industries to the communications/social network industry? Try to answer under assumption of a decent governing process, rather than simply saying that you trust the private owners more than government regulators. Follow-up: Do you think a debate about these issues is healthy? If so, do you do anything specifically pro-active to promote this kind of debate?

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71 Petroleumengineering student from Norvegr July 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm

1.Reading Yanis Varoufakis new book, and it starts with Larry Summers chatting with him,saying that there are two kinds of people, insiders and outsiders, the former get all the juicy stuff but keep their silence, the latter break the omerta at the price of being unable to excert influence and gain power. Could you make him expound on this issue?

2. The solution to the energy crisis, every energy nerd ala Vaclav Smil knows we need gigawatt storage capcity for renewable to give us emission free power, but every economist and finance hack in New York is breaking our balls about the shale”revolution” in the us. Since these soft-science people would not know what a decline rate is even if it ate up their oil.fueled civillization, why is so little thought given to these issues amongst his ilk? = The solution to the energy crisis is massive investment in the smartest people and universities aka USA.

3. Massivew weightloss. How can somebody so smart go for so long with all those extra kilos, and does he feel any better now that he has shed some? He should be an inspiration to your more evil ,and undoubtly more portly, brother Tyrone, who has the same profile(brilliant but not sporting the hunter-gatherer look to his detriment and capacity.)

4. Obama or Clinton, differences and so forth.

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72 JWatts July 17, 2017 at 4:52 pm

“2. The solution to the energy crisis, every energy nerd ala Vaclav Smil knows we need gigawatt storage capcity for renewable to give us emission free power, ”

I’m not sure what the energy nerds know, but the smart engineers know that we already have gigawatt storage capacity. What is needed is cheap energy storage to effectively translate intermittent fuels into base load power supplies.

“but every economist and finance hack in New York is breaking our balls about the shale”revolution” in the us. ”

Those issues are orthogonal. Energy storage is not the same as Primary energy sources.

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73 Petroleumengineering student from Norvegr July 17, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Yes, we need cheap energy storage, and that need to be some new kind of breaktrough technology. I know we have water reservoires we can use, but that is neither cheap or practial, so we have gigawatt storage, but what we have does not really useful, we cannot replicate the Hong kong model, neither the shale revolution in places as different as Poland, Argentina, or China.

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74 Edgar July 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm

OK, here are some questions, “As Harvard President, you approved the use of $26.5 million in Harvard money to buy off prosecutors investigating your crony Andrei Shleifer,’s conflict of interest in buying Russian stocks while advising Russia’s privatization program. This obviously compromised your ability to perform in the US interest as Director of the White House United States National Economic Council for President Barack Obama from January 2009 until November 2010, so please come clean and tell us how the evil Rooskies used the derogatory information they had on you to influence Obama’s policies toward Russia? Is this not perhaps one of the lesser instances of the innumerable instances of Russian access and influence in the Obama White House? Will you admit that the hypocrisy of the Democrats in attacking President Trump on Russia ties is of the most rank and vile nature of any hypocrisy in human history and that the syphilitic maggots that try to pass themselves off as a press corps are only feeding on their own excrement? Is there anybody else to blame for the failure of Russia’s privatization program other than Harvard economists? And why should Americans trust Harvard economists ever again given their abysmal performance not just in Russia but in the USA as well?”

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75 Art Deco July 18, 2017 at 7:17 am

This obviously compromised your ability to perform in the US interest as Director of the White House United States National Economic Council for President Barack Obama from January 2009 until November 2010,

How? That’s a redundant advisory position and what he did was settle a lawsuit.

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76 Bill July 17, 2017 at 5:37 pm

Should ask the Schliefer question, but the rest does not follow: there is no evidence that the Russians have anything on Summers or that Summers did anything with respect to Russia. Stringing words together does not an argument make. Summers mistake was protecting Schlieffer for violating conflict of interest rules, and the closer question was really whether he was protecting Harvard from a lawsuit for the act of its employee who violated conflict of interest rules.

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77 Bill July 17, 2017 at 5:37 pm

This was in response to Edgar.

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78 Barkley Rosser July 17, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Probably you should not ask him about this, although I have now put up three posts on Econospeak excoriating him for it, but in his commemoration speech about Arrow he reported Samuelson complaining about Joan Robinson being “stupid” at the 1972 party honoring Arrow’s Nobel. Now Samuelson had to admit some years earlier that she was right in the Cambridge capital theory controversies, and she certainly produced a lot of innovative work over a long period of time that has most people thinking she deserved a Nobel Prize, even if she got cranky and eccentric in her old aga.

So, does Larry think Paul was right about Joan, and whether he did or not why did he report this highly questionable remark in this memorial speech? He added that “those who are old enough will know what this is about.” You can ask him if he realizes that most of those who are in that category know that Joan Robinson was right and Paul Samuelson was wrong in their greatest argument, and that in 1966 Samuelson even said so.

Frankly, I really wonder what was going through Summers’s mind when he made this extremely inappropriate remark in his speech about Arrow, with Arrow not having anything to do with any of this. I think it is shameful, seriously shameful, on Larry’s part.

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79 Euripides July 17, 2017 at 10:33 pm

A good question, Barkley, and I think there is a way to phrase it so as to not make him defensive.
I have one, too, and it deals with Russia…Why did he think that Shleifer’s role in the HIID/Russia/Shleifer’s-wife fiasco not warrant a harsher sanction on Shleifer? Summers lost a lot of credibility if sweeping things under the rug in that case IMO.

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80 Barkley Rosser July 18, 2017 at 12:50 am

Oh that is easy, Euripides, but even less askable. As SecTreas Larry approved the funding for Andrei and his cohorts who got into trouble in Russia, leading to Harvard having pay out $22 million to settle the deal, this happening while Larry was prez of Harvard. While lots of people still think Larry got fired from that position for his stated positions on women in academia, it was his lying to the Harvard faculty about how Shleifer was treated at Harvard after this settlement, with Larry covering up his taking care of Andrei. When the senior Harvard faculty whot ad supported him out of academic freedom on the womens’ intelligence issue learned that he had lied to their faces on the takinb g-care-of-Andrei issue, they went to the Corporation Council, and Summers was out. Dave Warsh has reported on this definitively. Of course, Larry’s mentioning this matter of his less honorable uncle making seriously stupid remarks about Joan Robinson being stupid rather raises this matter rather acutely and uncomfortably. Again, Lawrence H. Summers should not have repeated this lie during this commemoration. Truly shameful.

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81 Art Deco July 18, 2017 at 7:01 am

The correct answer to your question (whether offered by Cowen or Summers) “I don’t give a good goddamn”.

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82 G Black July 17, 2017 at 6:49 pm

1. Why do we tax real property but not financial assets? (Not historically, but today.)

2. What will happen to the economics profession when Trump closes the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

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83 Viking July 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Try to own some stock that only keeps up with inflation for many years. Then wait for some large inflation. Then come back and complain that financial assets are untaxed.

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84 Art Deco July 18, 2017 at 7:14 am

2. What will happen to the economics profession when Trump closes the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Why should Tyler Cowen waste his time asking questions about imaginary events?

1. Why do we tax real property but not financial assets? (Not historically, but today.)

We do tax financial assets: at the time of sale or bequest. Property taxes finance local governments and real property is something indicative of income streams which is also readily observable by local government employees. To tax financial assets for those purposes, the local government would require the assistance of superordinate authorities. Capital gains taxes are a small portion of federal revenues, so flux in collections is not such a problem. For local governments to rely on taxation of real property at time of sale or bequest would complicate fiscal planning terribly, because you’d have spikes and troughs in revenue collection per the dynamics of the local real estate market. So, you have annual assessments and the effect of the tax on real income is capitalized into lower real estate prices.

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85 Nick Nahat July 17, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Under what circumstances would you consider higher education to be a luxury good and how would you adjust public policy with regard to student loans in those circumstances?

Something along those lines.

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86 Charles July 17, 2017 at 7:26 pm

Topic: Minerva Schools at KGI

Ask Mr. Summers about his initial role in the creation of Minerva, now the Minvera Schools at KGI. The original funding came in 2012 and it admitted its first students in 2014 as part of a partnership with KGI of the Claremont Colleges. Can it be called successful? Reinventing higher education is something that is often discussed but largely unrealized. Is Minerva Schools going to drive change in higher education… is it becoming the next “Ivy”… the “first elite American university to be launched in more than a century”… or is it our generation’s Naropa University?

Is Minerva or HarvardX more likely to be the catalyst for change in higher education? If you had to bet, which one will be around in 10 years… 20 years?

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87 Ryan T July 17, 2017 at 8:03 pm

Just going by his Wikipedia entry…

Why aren’t any good movies set in Connecticut? (See earlier post on MR.) Should ESPN leave Connecticut — would that make a difference to their declining numbers? Also, I could see that question leading to interesting follow ups on American regionalism. How does the NHL get the Whalers back — could a franchise called “Whalers” even come back (possible avenue into his brush ins with political correctness)? I’ve only driven through Connecticut. Where should I have stopped? How many Cs should be in Connecticut? Am I missing something or isn’t there one too many?

Gladwell says that Harvard excels at one thing: fundraising. But if Summers was to rate a second strength, what would it be? If Galileo had become chair of Harvard (http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/04/claims_my_russi.html), would he be remembered as its greatest thinker? Rightly or wrongly?

I’m not sure I can name another bureaucrat who has been in as many films as he has. What is that like? Are appointees and bureaucrats underappreciated? They seem to do real work but because their job is almost anonymously done, it’s easy to dismiss the entire class by its most annoying members. And yet, anyone who is skeptical of the current president would be placing their hopes in the bureaucracy. Are they right to do so? On a related note, is any American industry effectively regulated? The EPA, finance, agriculture… They often seem ineffective, even to those who want to view government as an avenue for influencing the culture. What explains that, apparent?, ineffectiveness?

I’d be curious to hear a discussion about the World Bank and whether it is stronger now than when he was there. If weaker, why?

A little gossipy, but is he on good terms with Cornell West now? Is he still as skeptical of rap music? I feel like this would be a good point that TC, a big Kanye West fan, could play with.

Looking forward to this CWT, and I’ve come to really enjoy this podcast. I hope these questions help.

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88 Alex July 17, 2017 at 8:07 pm

What would disprove your claim that more government spending is needed to stimulate the economy?

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89 Victoria Wilson July 17, 2017 at 8:32 pm

Does he believe that there is an economic model in which institutions take on the semblance of corporations and their trades fulfill public objectives which can be accounted for so that public servants can more efficiently administer programs?

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90 The Kid July 17, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Does he feel any responsibility for the 2007 housing crisis / financial meltdown?

Did he treat Brookley Born right back in the 1990s?

Should Bob Rubin give his millions in I’ll gotten gains from Citygroup back to the American people?

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91 Art Deco July 18, 2017 at 6:55 am

It’s a reasonable wager that the answers are: (1) not a whole lot; he’d been out of office for seven years; and (2) no worse than he treats everyone else; his bad manners were not the true problem; he was on the wrong side of a policy dispute (which Arthur Levitt acknowledged later),

The answer to your third question is: no, they should be remitted to Citigroup shareholders.

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92 Tyler Fan July 17, 2017 at 8:54 pm

What would he have done differently with Russian privatization/shock therapy?

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93 Bill July 17, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Ask him what you are known for: where can you get a good hamburger on the Harvard Campus.

When he traveled during the Asian currency crisis, what food did he enjoy the most.

When traveling in lesser developed countries what would he do if he were visiting a foreign leader and that leader offered him insects to eat.

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94 L Carey July 17, 2017 at 9:49 pm

1) How important does he think capital-biased technological change is as a supply-side explanatory factor in his Secular Stagnation thesis? Similarly, can aggregate demand growth ever be sufficient to support 3-4% overall growth if the labor share of income keeps declining (due, perhaps, to technological change)?

2) What does he see as the primary reason for the so-called ‘productivity paradox’? How does he see the relationship between a secular decline in productivity growth and financial cycles – i.e. will financial booms and busts become prevalent when there are simply less productive assets to invest in in the economy, forcing financial institutions to turn to increasingly speculative products?

3) In his 2013 Martin Fieldstein Lecture, ‘Economic Possibilities for our Children’, Summers argues that “As a society, we are going to need to come to grips over the next couple of decades with what has been called
Moynihan’s Corollary to Baumol’s Law. Baumol’s Law is the set of observations surrounding productivity growth in some but not all sectors, which I have sought to discuss. Moynihan’s Corollary is the propensity for the slow-growing sectors to end up in the public sector.” – how does this fit with his Secular Stagnation hypothesis? i.e. if more and more sectors are becoming “slow”, should we in fact be moving towards a period of nationalisation, not privatisation? (There’s quite a few questions I would want to ask from this lecture, but that quote has very interesting implication to my mind)

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95 Evans_KY July 17, 2017 at 10:03 pm

1. Considering the Great Recession and the resulting rise of populism, does he still believe that insiders should not criticize other insiders?

2. In a post widget world, where does he see the common worker in five years and how does he propose we alleviate their diminished standard of living?

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96 AF July 17, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Ask why is it the responsibility of the rich to provide healthcare to the poor. Or, alternatively, why he isn’t a libertarian.

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97 msgkings July 18, 2017 at 12:02 am

Same reason almost everyone isn’t a libertarian, because it’s a childish and selfish ethos.

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98 Pava Renat July 18, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Silly. People aren’t libertarians because it is so much easier and more fun to be a utilitarian nanny and pontificate magnificently and order people about. If you think libertarianism is inherently selfish, you are but an ignorant nincompoop.

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99 msgkings July 19, 2017 at 11:19 am

If you don’t understand that libertarianism is inherently selfish, you literally do not understand what those words mean.

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100 John g July 17, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Klousterman q!

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101 Art Deco July 18, 2017 at 7:29 am

Allan Bloom offered 30 years ago that there wasn’t much justification (outside ‘the hardest of hard sciences’) for keeping students on campus for four years absent a serious core curriculum. (“Students seem to be casting about for courses to take….”). Bloom thought two years on campus was enough. Would you assent to shorter and more specialized undergraduate programs? If not, why not? Would you assent to a cut in the production of PhD’s in the humanities and non-quantitative social sciences by defining in federal law a global ration for entrants into such doctoral programs (adjustable each year according to the growth and decline of undergraduate degree recipients) which would be distributed among research universities via multiple price auctions?

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102 Taylor Dennen July 18, 2017 at 10:36 am

What’s his assessment of the economic legacy of the Obama administration (if any)?

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103 Pava Renat July 18, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Probe his knowledge of public choice. Ask him about some of the basic ideas about government from the impossibility theorem through Calculus of Consent tp the need for constitutional limitations on democratic decision making. Generally, find out how he thinks about the difficulties of aggregating political preferences into effective governance and how far his respect for diversity of values and expression goes. I’d like to hear his answers, because it has always puzzled me how a really smart economist like Summers can hold the political views he has supported and espoused. I think he has always come across as intellectually shallow and simply wedded to government power and academic prestige rather than the pure pursuit of ideas, and would like to find out if I’m wrong. But I doubt you will get any honest answers from him. The only time he said something controversial and truthful, about math and girls, he lost his job and his reputation among his fellow liberals. So, if you want honest answers, ask him about good eats in Harvard Square, and stick to other useless topics.

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104 Josh July 18, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Ask him why he does what he does. Who does he serve? What does he value?

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105 Charles July 18, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Please ask him that if he looks back, is bailing out the banks from the bad mexican loan in the 80s is still a good idea? Does he think that this created the moral hazard that eventually resulted in the financial crisis? How would he handle these type of smaller crisis going forward?

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106 albatross July 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm

How much should economic policymakers take political reactions into account when making their decisions or recommendations? For example, it seems to me that a lot of the anti-establishment sentiment of the last few years (Tea Party, Occupy, Trump, Sanders) was largely a reaction to the combination of the financial crisis and the bailouts. Would it have been smarter to have fewer bailouts and more risk of economic disaster (assuming that would have been the result) to head off the massive anti-establishment sentiment and the general loss of faith in policy elites?

Alternatively, could the bailouts have been done in a way that still accomplished their economic stabilization goals, but didn’t play so badly politically?

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107 Petty B July 18, 2017 at 9:21 pm

Does he regret capitulating to the feminist Red Guards by resigning as President of Harvard, and what would he suggest to curb the prevalence of dogma and cant in the humanities today?

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108 mkt42 July 19, 2017 at 8:25 am

Who is more arrogant, the grad students at Harvard or the grad students at MIT? How about the faculty?

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109 Em July 21, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Your relationship with Mr Varoufakis, the former Finance minister of Greece. What was that about? u cray cray?

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