Cass Sunstein

Cass Sunstein is apparently going to pretend he doesn’t understand cronyism to defend Larry Summers. From Sunstein’s op-ed in Bloomberg:

A lot of public discussion takes place before the president nominates a new Federal Reserve Board chairman. This time, that discussion has gotten unusually heated.

Continuing economic difficulties are one reason. Another is that Lawrence Summers, a top candidate, is a larger-than-life figure — unusually well-known and widely admired, but in some circles controversial. The paradox is that those who know him best, and who have worked with him most closely, are his biggest supporters — and that the objections are coming largely from those who know him little or not at all. (Disclosure: Summers is a colleague and a friend, and I co-taught a course with him last spring.)

Sunstein’s explanation is the exact opposite of a “paradox.” People naturally defend and try to help out their friends.

People are also less likely to criticize people they know well nor try to hurt their job prospects. It is never surprising that the most pointed professional criticisms would come from people who don’t have a long standing personal relationship. Disclosures of personal relationships -like the one Sunstein just made- are considered so important in writing, business, law and politics because friends have a tough time offering unbiased opinions.

This basic dynamic is why cronyism is so widespread, and true meritocracy is so rare.

Pretending that Summers’ personal friends’ support of him is somehow a noteworthy proof of his ability is just insulting. A big complaint against Summers is that only big supporters are his friends. Clearly, Summers is just lucky he has powerful friends, since no one who doesn’t have a personal connection has offered a real case for Summers based on merit.  Simply put, this is the definition of cronyism.

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