He’s a free agent now! That should make him fun to watch.
As Sam Spektor points out below, Summers had a bizarre encounter with Tiger Mom Amy Chua (who is now backpedaling like mad, but not very convincingly) at—where else?—Davos.
Summers’ response to Chua’a theory of child-rearing is so curious, it’s worth quoting at length. (Thanks, Wall Street Journal.)
“In a world where things that require discipline and steadiness can be done increasingly by computers, is the traditional educational emphasis on discipline, accuracy and successful performance and regularity really what we want?” he asked. Creativity, he said, might be an even more valuable asset that educators and parents should emphasize. At Harvard, he quipped, the A students tend to become professors and the C students become wealthy donors.
“It is not entirely clear that your veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed,” he said to Ms. Chua. “Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?” he asked. “You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.” Demanding tiger moms, he said, might not be very supportive of their kids dropping out of school.
There is a second issue, he said. “People on average live a quarter of their lives as children. That’s a lot. It’s important that they be as happy as possible during those 18 years. That counts too.”
Odd. I’m not sure that it makes any sense to link work that can be done by computers with whether a child should make virtues of discipline and steadiness. Besides, in his own way, Mark Zuckerberg is incredibly disciplined and steady. Given that his idea wasn’t particularly original, and everything about Facebook is more useful than exciting, I’d actually suggest that the success of his website is due far more to his discipline than to his creativity.
In fact, I’d say the same thing about Bill Gates, at least in terms of Microsoft. Let’s fact it, the world would be far better off if it had been Apple which dominated the early years of personal computer software creation, and it’s hard to think of one Microsoft product right now that really exemplifies creativity. (Xbox, maybe?)
Give Gates credit for building a hugely successful company that employs a ton of people, and for doing wonderful work with international health. But if Microsoft hadn’t existed, someone else would have written software for our computers, and probably done it better. As with Zuckerberg, the virtues that Gates and Microsoft software emobody are steadiness and discipline, not creativity. (Remember, this is the company known as the Borg.) Generally, when Microsoft was creative in the past, it was appropriating features and ideas from other companies.
So actually, now that I think about it for two seconds, Summers’ argument seems kinda weak. Clever, though.
But I don’t imagine that folks at Harvard love the idea that the university’s former president is talking up the virtues of dropping out of Harvard. I wonder who will be the first to ask Drew Faust in a public forum whether she agrees with Summers about the distinction between A and C students, and whether it’s really dropouts who change the world.
Also, is that a hint of disrespect in his voice when he “quips” that the “A students become professors”? I think it is. Dropouts, Summers implies, change the world; professors don’t.
Curious message for a former university president (and former professor) to send. But it’s certainly more proof, if you needed it, that Summers is more interested in scoring points with the Davos crowd than he is in promoting the institution which now pays him an extremely generous salary. And he’s more interested—as has long been the case—in sound bites than in wisdom.
IMHO, two things are going on here: One, Summers knows that Chua has become perhaps the most disliked woman in America right now, other than Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman, so he has no desire to defend her. (C.f., Zayed Yasin.)
And two, he’s sucking up to Facebook, whose COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is his former chief of staff at Treasury, in a desire to make money off Facebook and other tech firms, perhaps by being invited to join their corporate board. Wait for it—you’ll see.
Okay! That’s one bit of Larry Summers news.
Then there’s this article on corruption in academia on the website TruthOut (don’t know what that is, but shock, it’s lefty), which centers on the relationship between Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, which has involved mutual profitability for them at the expense of Harvard, Main Street, and various foreign countries. (Thanks to Harry Lewis for pointing out the article.)
Larry Summers’ path to the Obama administration, and his record within it, are symptomatic of a new American plutocracy, and his new job at Harvard will keep the gears of corruption greased.
Some of the rhetoric is a little, well, rhetorical. But the article’s worth a read.
And finally, as Richard Thomas notes below, the Globe reports that Summers will be heading a new center at the Kennedy School, the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government.
I’ll admit, something about that title—”Center for Business and Government”—just gets my hackles up. Business so dominates government already—as evidence by the Rubin/Summers/Geithner axis—do we really need a Harvard center to further promote the fusion of the two?
That said, the Center’s been around for quite some time, so I can’t put that on Summers. But it will be interesting to see how he further unites Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue….