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Obama, economists, ego, and IQ
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September 22, 2011, 11:05 AM
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Reporter Ron Suskind on Jon Stewart`s show (in an excessively accurate transcript of extemporaneous speech):
"With Larry [Summers], Tim [Geithner] as well, but with Larry there`s a seduction there.  You know Obama loves these high IQ guys, Larry is of course the top of the heap there, with sterling credentials, and he sort of ends up in what I call a `Larry Summers Debate Society.`  
"Now I think Obama thought he`d sit about and judge who`s the winner, he ends up just another guy at the table in a way, Larry saying I`ll go first, you go after me.  It troubles people who are sitting there saying is that being disrespectful to the president.  Eventually you see the president`s confidence sort of bruised, and frankly that`s why `confidence men` in the title."
And here`s a quote about economists in general:
Most economists, it seems, believe strongly in their own superior intelligence and take themselves far too seriously. In his open letter of 22 July 2001 to Joseph Stiglitz, Kenneth Rogoff identified this problem: “One of my favourite stories from that era is a lunch with you and our former colleague, Carl Shapiro, at which the two of you started discussing whether Paul Volcker merited your vote for a tenured appointment at Princeton. At one point, you turned to me and said, “Ken, you used to work for Volcker at the Fed. Tell me, is he really smart?” I responded something to the effect of “Well, he was arguably the greatest Federal Reserve Chairman of the twentieth century” To which you replied, “But is he smart like us?” Economists have delusions of adequacy and a related assured self-confidence that they bring to any problem.
I spent a lot of time in 2005 defending Larry Summers, but the guy has a track record of being more trouble than he`s worth. Getting kicked out of being president of Harvard is a pretty hard thing to accomplish — Harvard likes to nurture the illusion of its institutional infallibility — but Larry managed it. And, the feminists hate him, which is always going to be a big problem for a Democratic president who has to work with a lot of seething feminists.
So, why in the world did Obama hand the keys to Larry? Well, "Obama loves these high IQ guys," like, oh, say, Obama. It`s not a coincidence that the only bit of national journalism Obama engaged in during the 1990s was to denounce The Bell Curve. IQ matters to Obama a lot.

Has anybody gone through life being told he`s "brilliant" more often than Obama? John von Neumann? In the Daily Show video, you`ll see that the first thing Suskind says as he starts the interview is that Obama is "brilliant." You have to say that sort of thing about Obama, even though there`s not much evidence for it. Smart, sure. But brilliant is as brilliant does, as Forrest Gump`s mom would have said, and Obama has never done much except self-promotion.
Not surprisingly, it turned out that Obama, much to his own surprise, isn`t as smart as Larry Summers. He isn`t even close. And that realization got poor Obama down, which let Larry walk all over him even more, which just exacerbated Summers contempt for Obama. Eventually, staffer Peter Rouse organized a coup against Summers and had him tossed out.

Another problem is that Obama isn`t really the big man that he thinks he is. He has a big ego about his IQ and big personal ambitions, but he doesn`t really have the overwhelming urge to bend other men to his will about other things. White people have flattered him so much ever since he arrived at Harvard Law School as a Potential First Black President in 1988 that he`s never had to develop much willpower. Like in the race for editor of the Harvard Law Review, he`s gotten ahead by having white people decide promoting him is the reasonable compromise choice. (Remember how during Roman victory parades, the conquering general was followed by a slave who whispered depressing facts in his ear? Obama should have had Congressman Bobby Rush follow him around whispering, "You ain`t all that.")

In contrast, here`s Tom Wolfe`s description of a smart staffer`s view of his real estate developer boss from A Man in Full:
"The Wiz looked upon [Croker] as an aging, uneducated, and out-of-date country boy who had somehow, nonetheless, managed to create a large, and, until recently, wildly successful corporation. That the country boy, with half his brainpower, should be the lord of the corporation and that [the Wiz] should be his vassal was an anomaly, a perversity of fate. . . . Or part of him felt that way. The other part of him was in awe, in unconscious awe, of something the old boy had and he didn`t: namely, the power to charm men and the manic drive to bend their wills into saying yes to projects they didn`t want, didn`t need, and never thought about before... And that thing was manhood. It was as simple as that."
If Obama were white, he would have, with his admirable ability to lucidly lay out both sides of an argument, made a useful staffer. But our country has such a hunger for black male authority figures (but has been burned enough times before by more conventional ones) that it seized upon the unlikely reed of Barack Obama as the perfect combination of black and white. His lack of accomplishment could then be rationalized away as the tragic product of white racism: how could the poor man ever have a record of building or running much of anything when his skin color kept him from having any opportunity? Therefore, let`s make him President!

Paul Graham says the one trait he most values when deciding which technology start-up founders to invest in is: "relentlessly resourceful." Those are not, however, the first words that leap to mind when thinking of Obama. He has many virtues, such as politeness and presentableness. He`d make an outstanding crown prince of a constitutional monarchy.