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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Is Larry Summers 'A Straw to Stir the Drink'?

David Warsh asks why there is no counterpart to Paul Krugman on the center right, and suggests that Larry Summers should play that role for the WSJ (there is quite a bit more in the original):

Wanted: A Straw to Stir the Drink, Economic Principals: “The straw that stirs the drink” is an old newspaper colloquialism, derived from politics, applied to very successful columnists. It means a commentator with a large following, one whom even the opposition reads. ... The drink-stirrer for the last ten years or so in the world of center-left economic policy has been Paul Krugman... He seems to have learned every trick in the columnist’s book.
Why is there no Krugman on the center right?
That a receptive community exists is obvious. ... The Wall Street Journal has ... a tent big enough to accommodate all those who prefer ... an alternative to whatever the Democratic Party was offering...
[But...] Where Krugman writes two pieces a week (which he energetically supplements with daily entries on his Times-sponsored blog), the WSJ’s only writer with an economics background is former George Mason University graduate student Stephen Moore. (In his twice-weekly “Business World” column, Holman Jenkins Jr. dispenses shrewd microeconomic commentary.) Moore is not exactly deeply grounded in the discipline. ...
So what would a center-right counterpart to Krugman look like?
Such a commentator would have to know something about monetary policy – have a feeling for the possibilities for better banking regulation. He or she would have to confront the unpleasant news about income distribution emanating from the University of California at Berkeley, in the work of Emmanuel Saez, and not simply dismiss his epic collaboration with Thomas Piketty as French economists… rock stars of the intellectual Left… special[izing] in “earnings inequality” and “wealth concentration.” Such a person probably would accept that the main features of the safety net, such as the Social Security System, are here to stay, and recognize a government role in formulating the market for health insurance. (Remember, it was GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney who introduced a version of Obamacare when he was governor of Massachusetts.) A serious economics commentator for the WSJ would take climate change seriously, too...
Come to think of it, a sensible full-time economics columnist who would broaden the audience of the WSJ’s editorial page and give it a realistic claim on the future might look a lot like Lawrence Summers. I know, he’s thought to be something of a liberal. He unquestionably possesses a decent heart. But that is part of the job description I have been writing. It is his famously tough mind, so bothersome to progressives over the years, that is his main attraction. He could cite his having worked in the Reagan administration, for his mentor Martin Feldstein, as a credential! (So did Krugman.)
I know, too, that it’s the Financial Times that put him in the column-writing business. But that audience is too thin, and the paper too precarious a perch for Summers’s ambition... Summers is uniquely qualified to play a part at the WSJ that for many years has gone uncast– the role of loyal opposition. Murdoch and he should think about it. .

    Posted by on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 02:53 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (26)


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