Larry Summers: His arrogance in chief

Paul Krugman points to a discussion on the prospects of the kind of financial meltdown (pdf) we’ve just had at Jackson Hole in which, most of the economists were in fawning agreement with Saint Alan Greenspan.  As Krugman says “Larry Summers, Im sorry to say, comes off particularly badly.”

In another episode at Harvard, Larry Summers, musings on the inadequacies of women were both stupid and arrogant.  I have  nothing against the kind of issues he raised being raised, but it turned out (at least from the little reading I did at the time he did his thing) that his comments were in addition to being highly inflammatory, pretty half baked.  Anyway he paid dearly for his faux pas and left his post.

Anyway, Krugman’s comment reminded me to tell Troppodillians that I was listening to this interview with Summers (mp3) and was simply amazed by one cute little feature of his speaking style. On several occasions the interviewer tries to interrupt him to inject some new question into the conversation or steer him away from some topic when she’s had enough. Now journalists interrupting can be rude and annoying.  But this one isn’t particularly bad. And interrupting is a very normal and legitimate way of signalling various things in ‘real time’ between two people in a discussion. Providing it’s not too constant it is not particularly rude and it’s efficient and helpful in steering the communication. Further, in an interview the conversation has elements of a ‘performance’ where there are time limits to get through the material that the interviewer seeks to, so additional licence should be given.  Of course if the interruptions are repeated, stupid, rude or whatever, the interviewee has every right to complain and ask to be allowed to finish his answer.

Anyway in the face of probably about four or five such interruptions from a reasonably competent and pleasant interviewer, Summers just kept talking, simply refusing to respond to a word she said until his majesty had got off his chest whatever it was that was on it.  Comes of an an aggressive, arrogant prat.  Pity.  It will make him much worse at his new job than he’d otherwise be.

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10 Responses to Larry Summers: His arrogance in chief

  1. ennui says:


    The ‘this’ link is not working – I remain curious as to Summer’s “cute” speaking style.

  2. derrida derider says:

    Oh yes, the man has long been known as an arrogant prick. I certainly wouldn’t want to work for him. Though I do feel he got a bum rap over that Harvard speech – the argument he made there was sophisticated, quite plausible, and did not imply that discrimination was justified.

  3. ennui says:

    Nick “from the little reading I did at the time (Summers) comments were in addition to being highly imflammotary, pretty half baked.”
    Strong words from a person who admits to having done “litle reading” on the issue!

    Not having done probably much more reading regarding that speech at the time (2005?)than Nick I hesitate to make a judgment, but my recollection was simply that he proffered some provocative views re the lack of woman in high level positions in engineering – at a conference on minorities in the science workforce.

    Whether the hypotheses he presented were right or wrong – my understanding was that were certainly worthy of debate – you would hope at Harvard that they would be examined on their merit and not rely on sexist sensitivities to argue a case or stifle debate.

    Quite apart from the above, it will be very interesting to see how Obarma uses Summers and deals with the massive ego. It is very hard to imagine Summers as a ‘team’ player and, given that the economy is front and centre for Obarma, we not have long to wait!

  4. Michael Kalecki says:

    I agree with DD on that speech.

    With respect to working with Summers Brad De Long suggests Larry is not arrogant at all as a boss indeed quite the opposite.

    I would have thought being Treasury secretary would have let any arrogance hang high.

    perhaps you maybe wrong!!

  5. KK and others, perhaps you are right. Like I said, I didn’t read carefully around the subject. One thing that struck me as pretty suss was that Summers made a pretty abject apology. Either the speech was in good faith or not. If it was, what was he doing apologising?

    Ennui, it looks like the BBC has removed the file. Sorry. : (

  6. Ennui, Looks like you can get the interview streamed here.

  7. MK,

    Have a listen to Brad Delong’s delivery style in his lectures – which can be downloaded on his site. I agree with lots of what he says. I’m an admirer of his intelligence and good policy sense. But for my taste his delivery is distainful, suggesting condescension (even arrogance) to the point of being unpleasant. So, the fact that he’s hunky with Summers isn’t particularly persuasive – to me at least.

  8. Michael Kalecki says:


    an arrogant man takes no notice of what his minion’s thoughts are indeed tries to stop them. ( Hello John Stone).

    Brad has said quite deliberately not only did Summers encourage other points of view, he would not even take the credit if they were right.

    Summers the Head of Treasury and Summers the public figure are vastly different if one believes Brad. He did work with him

  9. ennui says:

    Thanks Nick.
    I did have a listen to the Summer’s interview, not quite Frost/Nixon, but nevertheless interesting. I think that you may be a bit harsh in your criticism – though the disdain shown by the ‘superior intellect’ for the interviewer was obvious. But, unlike a politician, he did actually respond to the questions asked. (I also think the interviewer was hoping for more ‘fire and brimstone’ from Summers.)

    Obama’s economic team is not exactly a Lincolnesque “team of rivals” but the Geithner/Summers relationship may well be critical. Combining Summer’s ego with his previous experience as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and his policy-making role as head of the NEC will make him a formidable member of the team.
    It will be quite a test for Geithner but even more for Obama to ensure he extracts maximum value from the talent he has put together.

  10. Michael Kalecki says:


    They both worked together when Summers was Treasury Secretary and worked well

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