08/23/2009 07:07 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Economic Adviser to the Aristocracy

The lately published list of the honorariums received by Lawrence Summers for
lectures delivered in 2008--at firms like J.P. Morgan, McKinsey and Company,
Goldman Sachs (twice), Citigroup (twice), Lehman Brothers (twice), American
Express, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Skagen Funds (twice)--shows the practical
meaning of an aristocratic class. The amounts received by Summers from these
banks and brokerage houses and consulting firms covered a range from $59,400
per lecture (Skagen) to $135,000 (McKinsey). Other outfits paid still more.

Summers also received a salary of $5.2 million in 2008 from the hedge
fund D.E.
Shaw after having brought substantial pressure to institute the
radical policy
of deregulation that affords an unparalleled species of financial
protection to
hedge funds.

The point about such a private counselor who becomes a public servant is not that he is corrupt. He need not be. Rather, he is predictable within the world
he knows and believes in, which is the world that honors him. He does not have
to be told what to do. When he thinks of the American family, these banks and
investment groups, and the too-big-to-fail insurance colossus, are in fact his
extended family. They are the people he talks to and jokes with and eats with,
the people he thinks of in his spare time. They are the people he knows.

One sees in the recent career of Summers--and not least, in his ascent to the
position of economic adviser to President Obama--how subtle, consistent, and
pervasive are the means by which an aristocracy perpetuates itself. How it doles
out its rewards to maintain its power. How it buys the talents and shapes the
careers it needs, so that even a general crisis brings only a second layer of
bribed servants, and the medicine is administered by doctors whose judgment is
bought and paid for. One sees, too, what drove the rage against such a
class in
earlier times--the feeling that its power is a monstrous imposition; the fear
that no cry or protest will ever penetrate from outside the closed circle.