Sunday, November 16, 2008

Government Failure: When Competence Takes Back Seat

If you think that the President-elect should use competence as the main criterion when appointing government officers, then you won't be happy with what the WSJ has to report. Here's a worrisome extract concerning the Treasury Department:

Perhaps no potential nominee is taking more heat than Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers, a potential pick as Treasury secretary. Mr. Summers served in that post for President Clinton and has moved to a position of prominence in Mr. Obama's economic team. Women's groups are particularly distressed about his possible appointment, recalling comments he made as Harvard president that innate characteristics may prevent women from achieving more prominence in science.

"The American electorate has changed the course of history by demonstrating that an African-American can do anything. We hope that the messages of the Obama presidency will be broader than that -- that any American can do anything. That includes women," said an anti-Summers broadside from the Rosalind Franklin Society, an honors group for women in biosciences.

Labor groups and liberal economists are suspicious of Mr. Summers's free-market principles, which helped guide a deregulation of the financial-services industry at the end of the Clinton era.

"It would be a really bad start to his administration if President Obama picked a Treasury secretary who shares a substantial part of the blame for the bubble economy and the financial crisis," liberal economist Dean Baker recently wrote.

But Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, took a swipe at Mr. Summers's chief rival for the post, New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner, who, he made clear, is an unknown quantity to labor.

"I always worry about somebody who has spent his whole life at the Federal Reserve," Mr. Stern said, plugging a new name for consideration, New Jersey governor and former Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine.

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