Monday, March 14, 2005

Larry Summers, Technocrat and Near-Autist?

In the wake of L'affaire Summers, Boston Magazine prints an excellent look at Larry Summers. The profile effectively delineates the major events and features of his career as an economist, public servant, and bureaucrat. For instance, Summers' comments on women's inherent cognitive abilities are interestingly qualified by the fact that, as Secretary of the Treasury and as Harvard president, his "closest staff members were female; he seemed to feel most relaxed in the presence of women. 'Larry surrounds himself with these women who see the vulnerable side of him and think they can change him,' says one Clinton aide who worked closely with Summers. Conversely, whether at MIT, Harvard, or in Washington, virtually all the colleagues Summers considered intellectually challenging were male." One reason, then, that Summers might hold such recondite opinions about innate female characteristics is that he's only rarely encountered women whose behavior and brainpower would contradict those opinions. Silly women, hiding from Larry like that.

Apart from (and even in opposition to) its value in tracking Summers' path through the American technocracy, the article also suggests that one reason he keeps causing trouble with his mouth is that he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Be that as it may, I think Occam's razor is useful here. Before invoking a biological explanation, we might consider that, like many men who have climbed up the ladder, Larry Summers is both arrogant and unimaginative in considering reasons why others do not succeed in the same ways or to the same degrees that he has. Summers' views on female achievement are more adequately explained by the certainty of his accomplishments as a technocrat than the possibility of his suffering from Asperger's.


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