So Larry Summers is leaving the administration, after two hard years. It's hard to escape the conclusion that his departure must be a disappointment for him. It's true that people do leave administrations--this sort of service is tiring, and extremely disruptive to personal lives. But Summers certainly seemed to thrive on it during the Clinton administration, where he began as an undersecretary in the early '90s, and finished as Treasury Secretary. He then moved to Al Gore's campaign as an adviser.
But while Summers emerged from the Asian crisis with a reputation as a crisis fighter, this time around has proven more challenging. As traders say, "In a bull market, everyone's a genius." Summers and Rubin basked in the reflected glory of the tech boom, with full employment and full government coffers. The events of the last two years have tarnished both Summers and Rubin, as it turned out that even their formidable skills could not produce growth out of nothing.
No doubt some will say this is unfair--that of course Summers couldn't cope with a crisis handed to him by Bush. But to the extent that you think that the financial crisis was largely a matter of regulatory failures--a position I actually find pretty unconvincing--the regulatory failures were at least as much due to Clinton policy as to the Bush team.
In fact, I continue to think that Summers is a brilliant man who probably got undue credit for the charms of the tech boom, and will be criticized unfairly for the strictures of the current crisis. But that's politics; if you're happy to accept the unfair accolades, you have to be willing to endure the unfair brickbats as well.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down