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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

11 March 2006

A letter on Larry Summers

This is a letter to the editor which appears in the Financial Times:

Sir, I feel compelled to write a reaction to David Allen's letter on the Larry Summers affair (“Leader must behave as decent person,” March 4). What struck me is the comment: “I have no personal experience of the man; but I have, as have many others, heard numerous accounts of his arrogance and bullying - accounts frequent enough to make me feel comfortable with their reliability.” Now, I do not wish to express any personal opinion on Larry Summers' performance as Harvard's president. Rather, I wish to object to publishing such a second-hand personal attack without any basis of evidence.

I think one can best judge a person's true character by how he/she treats what you might call "nobodies" - people so far below them on the power scale that there is no personal gain to be had from being nice to them. I have never forgotten how Larry Summers treated me when I was such a nobody.

In the early 1980s, I was an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I was a terrible student (ie, I was an engineering major with little interest in the subject and rarely saw the inside of a classroom). After my junior year, I was determined to stay in Boston for the summer to continue more "interesting" activities. I went looking at job postings and found that an economics professor named Larry Summers was looking for someone to do computer programming. There, at least, was something I could do - even a terrible engineering major knows more about computer programming than an economics major - so I applied for and got the job.

Now, the point of the story is this: after a few months, the blockbuster news broke that the famous Larry Summers had been stolen away from MIT by Harvard. My first thought was, of course, "Oh no, now I'm out of a job." But very soon, I got a phone call that went roughly like this: "Mike, this is Larry Summers. I've decided to go to Harvard. But don't worry. I've found someone else at MIT who will hire you."

Now this is what has always impressed me. Why, in the midst of all the pressure he must have been under at that time, would he have bothered to take the time to find a new job for an undergraduate research assistant?

Michael Keane,
Professor of Economics,
Yale University,
New Haven, CT 06520, US

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