Don’t surprise Larry Summers

Update: If this reads anti-Summers, then I did not write it right.

Larry Summers is a bit of a dick in a way I think we can all appreciate. As long as you are not the target, some of his disses can be pretty good.  Consider the Winkelvii.

One great Summersism is when he says, “I am surprised.” * The object of his surprise is invariably the stupidity of whomever he is discussing. In this blog post, he expresses “surprise” that that Steve Mnuchin would be so stupid as to think the robots are 50 to 100 years away or to claim that tech stocks are necessarily overvalued. Larry is “surprised” Mnuchin would say such things, just speaking — you know — Treasury Secretary to Secretary.

I will always remember when Larry Summers mentioned at a Munk Debate in Toronto in 2011 (which his side won) that he was “surprised” that David Rosenberg would imply that low bond yields implied that growth prospects must be weak. (To cite Rosie, that was the opinion of “Mr. Bond.”)  Summers was “surprised” that Rosenberg could confuse a source of stimulus, low bond yields, for a signal of weakness.  In the end, Larry was surprised by events and adopted Rosenberg’s view in whole. I often disagree with Rosenberg, sometimes to my regret, but that was pretty piquant, as Jack Nicholson might say, at 1:55.

But Summers is like the Robert McNamara of our age. No matter how many times he gets shit wrong, he keeps dragging us back. Somebody who speaks that ponderously and condescendingly just MUST know what he is talking about, we assume.

I read and take extremely seriously everything he writes. For example, he is right about QE. Nothing burger. But aside from that, I often fear that I am falling for style — and do anyway.

* British punctuation of quotes is too hard to keep straight. American is easier, so I am switching back.