Felix Salmon smackdown watch, Rubin/Sperling edition

By Felix Salmon
January 3, 2011
Brad DeLong has an excellent response to my post this morning about Larry Summers's replacement at the NEC.

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Brad DeLong has an excellent response to my post this morning about Larry Summers’s replacement at the NEC. Brad is open about being a Rubinite himself, and in truth he does a much better job of defending Rubin than Rubin’s biographer Jacob Weisberg did back in May. (On the other hand, since he’s concentrating on today’s post, he ignores the long list of substantive reasons why Rubin is particularly culpable in the financial crisis.)

Brad judges Rubin qua politician, nothing that he made the tax system more progressive, spent many years “raising lots and lots of $$$$$$$ for Democratic and progressive causes,” and was “squarely in the middle of the Democratic senatorial caucus.”

Brad doesn’t say that Rubin moved the Democratic party broadly to the right, and specifically towards the monied classes (a/k/a the bond vigilantes) who care about fiscal prudence and who make millions of dollars a year on Wall Street. Whether or not that was the correct thing to do from a policy point of view, it effectively neutralized any potential opposition to the people Brad really blames, especially Phil Gramm. It’s true that Gramm went further than Rubin or even Summers was willing to go. But it’s also true that insofar as there was concerted opposition to Gramm, the debates seemed highly technical and recondite, since at first glance everybody wanted pretty much exactly the same thing.

More generally, Brad’s take on Rubin sounds a bit like Ezra Klein on Gene Sperling, when he says that Sperling’s advantages include “extended experience in politics, including during a previous period when a Democratic president had to negotiate with a Republican Congress.”

Brad goes on to describe the search for Summers’s successor in explicitly party-political terms:

I would say that you want to draw your White House staff from successful managers–people who have had lots of experience bossing other people and who have done very well at it–and that there are only three groups of successful managers who are Democrats: Hollywood studio executives and their ilk, people who have made careers in government and academia, and executives who have worked for traditionally-Jewish investment banks. If you want managers in a Democratic administration, that’s where they have to come from. And I don’t think you want to throw out a third of your potential talent pool at the very start.

It’s worse than that, actually: my point was that the people who have made careers in government and academia—people like Richard Levin, or Larry Summers, or Peter Orszag—are also very much part of the Wall Street money culture, and invariably end up earning quite a lot from bankers, one way or another. So if you’re confining yourself to Brad’s three groups, and if you want to exclude the taint of Wall Street, then you’re left with Hollywood studio executives. Yikes.

On the other hand, if it’s really true that the only successful managers who are Democrats fall into one of Brad’s three groups, then the Democrats have much bigger problems than working out who the next head of the NEC should be. I don’t think it is true: I think that America is full of successful Democrats in flyover states. But also, I don’t think that it’s necessary or even particularly desirable that the next head of the NEC should be a wizened political strategist or, for that matter, a Democrat. Better that it’s someone who has seen at first hand how the economy works in America, by creating real value rather than living parasitically on those who do. And one thing that most politicians, academics, and bankers have in common is that they are fundamentally parasitical creatures.

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