Economic Principals reviews Noam Scheiber’s forthcoming book on the Obama economic team, The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery, which blogger David Warsh describes as “Larry’s version.”
Not to be too self-referential—but to be self-referential—this is as predicted on this blog three years ago, when I wrote about Scheiber’s initial portrayal of Summers as a heroic figure in the New Republic.
Here’s a prediction I’m willing to put some money on: Within the next few months, Noam Scheiber of the New Republic will sign a book deal to write about President Obama’s economic team—Inside the White House as Barack Obama, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner Try to Save America, or something like that.
I deeply disagreed with Scheiber’s flattering portrayal of Summers, which I thought was a bid for access for the aforementioned book–a bribe, basically.
Warsh says this on that theme:
The notes indicate that Scheiber interviewed Summers on the record just once in four years, and then only long after he left office. (Associates of Summers saw him many more times than that.) Nor does it mean that the author doesn’t have opinions of his own. A hard worker, he’s well-schooled in the Washington game (including, presumably, the occasional act of ventriloquism.)
But Summers is definitely the hero of Scheiber’s story….
Warsh surely knows that notes indicating one on-the-record interview are meaningless, since they wouldn’t indicate background interviews, of which I suspect there were several. Also, Scheiber interviewed Summers on the record for his original TNR story, which happened as Summers took office, not long after he left. So there were at least two interviews.
For days, I’d worried that Summers would dress me down like a frivolous undergraduate if I ventured something moronic….
Warsh is mildly positive—pretty mildly—about The Escape Artists, but he does experience some confusion regarding its title.
When I came to the end of the book, I looked back in vain for explicit explanation of the title. Who were the escape artists that Scheiber has in mind, and from what did they escape? From economic depression? The perils of the ’90s? Irrelevance? The Republicans?
I found the answer in the endnotes, or so I thought, in the form of Scheiber’s long and thoughtful article about Geithner, in February 2011, titled “The Escape Artist.” And from whom, or what, did the Treasury Secretary escape? The answer seemed to be Summers, who had clearly wanted his job. The artists escaped from each other.
This may be tongue-in-cheek, but I can shed some light on the answer to the question; we interviewed Scheiber for Worth and asked him about the title (not online, unfortunately), and he explained that it referred to the economic policymakers (Summers, Geithner) who had helped get the world out of crises in the mid- to late 1990s. Readers of Globalization and Its Discontents will disagree with that narrative…