Last July, a series of stories detailed the long, disquieting relationship between alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and Larry Summers, a prominent economist, hedge fund adviser, former Clinton and Obama administration official and one-time president of Harvard University.
While at Harvard, Summers wooed Epstein as a donor, and apparently was successfully counter-wooed into Epstein’s social circle. Epstein gave $9 million to Harvard over the years, beginning with a $6.5 million donation in 2003. The two men remained friends for years, long after Summers had been forced out of his university perch. In 2011, about eight months after Epstein was released from prison and classified as a class-three sex offender for soliciting an underaged prostitute, Summers attended a party at Epstein’s palatial Manhattan mansion, where he was photographed grinning alongside Epstein, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and James E. Staley, a former JPMorgan Chase executive.
Throughout the past year, as Epstein’s second criminal trial dragged this shameful past back into public view, Summers has been conspicuously close-mouthed about what he knew and when he knew it. There are, after all, few flattering things to be said about one’s connection to an international sex criminal. Epstein’s first arrest was in 2006. His prosecution was amply covered by Florida newspapers and national outlets including The New York Times. One of his defense attorneys was Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, whom Summers knew well. And shortly after Summers resigned as Harvard’s president (he remained on the economics faculty), the school’s own newspaper reported that the university had decided against returning Epstein’s gift. Conversations were underway about what to do about the Epstein problem.
All of which raises two distinct possibilities: Either Summers was ignorant of Epstein’s wrongdoing, itself an act of staggering incompetence, or he knew what had transpired and simply didn’t care. Is Larry Summers a fool or an enabler?
Joe Biden seems to be satisfied with whatever the answer to that question might be. On Thursday, Bloomberg News reported what had been rumored for weeks: Summers has been advising Biden on economic recovery strategies for the ongoing coronavirus collapse.
This prompted immediate outrage from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, where Summers is loathed for, well, just about everything he has ever said or done. But Summers isn’t just a bad choice for a Democratic nominee trying to win over reluctant progressives. There are plenty of neoliberal economists out there. But none of them are nearly as toxic as Summers. He is someone you only turn to if you don’t give an iota about your own reputation.
Over the past three decades, Summers has amassed a policy record of almost unrivaled social ruin. As a Clinton Treasury official in the early 1990s, Summers advocated for the rapid privatization of Soviet assets after the fall of the U.S.S.R. ― a disastrous policy that allowed a few oligarchs to seize control of the country and led to the enthronement of Vladimir Putin. Summers’ protege in that debacle — another Harvard man, economist Andrei Shleifer — was eventually sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly abusing his position to defraud both the American and Russian governments. Harvard paid $26.5 million to dismiss the charges in 2005, ten years after Summers had blurbed Shleifer’s book, ”Privatizing Russia”: “The authors did remarkable things in Russia, and now they have written a remarkable book.”