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And all the more frustrating with Summers is that his academic background is quite good. And his background prior to becoming an academic is absolutely ridiculous. His dad was an economist. His uncles are Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson -- and, whatever the merits of their ideas, they are nevertheless giants. He studied at MIT under Robert Solow and Marty Feldstein. His classmate was Krugman.
The guy's literally been surrounded by giants his entire life. He was doing higher-level stats and math before he was old enough to drive. He was tenured at Harvard when he was 27.
He probably has the most absurdly privileged background of any economist who has ever lived. Most PhD candidates would cut their legs off for a background like that.
Yet he's never lived up to it. And I think it's probably because he was never raised on the intuition, and he never had to really want it. It's sort of like an athlete who's the son of an NFL Hall-of-Famer. He's born with athletic abilities most guys could never dream of, skates by based on pure talent throughout his high school and college years. And then he gets to the big stage and fails miserably, unable to live up to the hype.
Summers never got the central insight Keynes really meant by his quote about "the long run" -- that the task of macro is to make people's lives better and acknowledge that we aren't even close to having all the answers, and that if all we can do is say "Meh" during turbulence, then we might as well just go home.
It's great to be skeptical of the cries of vested interests. It's great to think probabilistically. But don't allow that skepticism and probabilistic thinking to become intellectually crippling. That, I think, goes to the root of Summers's problems.
Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
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