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Will We Finally Get a Seat at the Table? Help Pick a Replacement for Larry Summers

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David Segal and Aaron Swartz

An elitist, technocratic multi-millionaire who disdains dissent and made a fortune on Wall Street, Larry Summers typifies that which ails the Democratic Party. For the last two years he's served as director of President Obama's National Economic Council where he's been in charge of coordinating the administration's economic policy -- its response to the economic collapse and foreclosure crisis, its position on financial reform, and more.

It's tough for Summers to imagine a world without the mega-banks and mega-rich, and this has been reflected in the administration's reluctance to adopt a populist posture as it contends with the bad economy and banking abuses. Summers has announced that he's leaving the NEC to return to Harvard later this year -- and we at Demand Progress thing it's well past time for the rest of us to have a seat at the table.

Help us push Obama to pick a progressive NEC director by signing our petition and picking who you'd like to see get the job. (Keith Hennessey's articles here and here lay-out exactly what the job is all about.)

The din of the squawks of the deficit hawks, carried to us on corporate-controlled airwaves, makes it easy to forget that there are countless progressive economists -- Baker, Galbraith, Krugman, Stiglitz, and plenty of others -- who toil away tirelessly and thanklessly, advocating for higher minimum wages, tighter financial regulation, fair trade agreements, and an economy that generally works for you and me.

While the finance wizards of Washington and Wall Street were laying a foundation for the economic collapse (and then shingling the roof and picking out the curtains) many of our progressive economist heroes saw the crisis coming and urged the institution of reforms that would have helped prevent it.

It's far past time for these proven progressives -- and the rest of us through their voices and good deeds -- to have a say in the administration's economic policy.

Larry's Greatest Hits:

Just how out of touch is Summers? As Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, Summers praised the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and argued against regulation of derivatives. He later had the gall to assert that it was "outrageous" that AIG had been able to sell hundreds of billions of dollars of credit default swaps without being regulated.

In 2001 he became Harvard's 27th president, but was eventually forced out after a flack with Cornel West (over whether his spoken-word album degraded Harvard) and suggesting that under-representation of women in high-level math and science jobs could be because of "different availability of aptitude at the high end." He went to work for a New York-based hedge fund, earning $5 million -- plus $2.7 million in speaking fees in 2008 alone from Wall Street firms that had gotten bailout funds.

When right-wing economist Milton Friedman died, Summers wrote in The New York Times that "any honest Democrat will admit that we are now all Friedmanites." (Meaning progressives like us either aren't really Democrats, or are a bunch of liars.)

And then... in 2009 he found comfort back in the White House, as director of President Obama's National Economic Council, helping to oversee the very firms that had been so generous to him when he was down-and-out after leaving Harvard and blunting the administration's response to the economic crisis.

Time for a New Direction:

As Summers departs, and as Republicans pick up seats in the House and Senate, it's time for Obama to prove that he'll stand up and fight back. He should appoint a progressive, populist, anti-corporatist economist to replace Summers. Somebody who saw the crisis coming -- not somebody who helped make it possible. Someone who will push for jobs, financial regulation, foreclosure reform, and better living standards for all Americans.

Thankfully, there's a bevy of economists who've been doing just that for decades, and who deserve the President's attention at this critical juncture in our nation's history.

Join us as we wonk out and make some progressive economists smile: Sign our petition urging Obama to pick a progressive to replace Summers. Then review our list of suggestions -- complete with short bios and quotes that represent their ideas. Vote for your favorite, or nominate your own.

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