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Larry Summers and his Mouth Problem

In an op-ed in The Financial Times on Monday, July 19, Larry Summers writes:

"Economic commentators are mired in an unhelpful dialectic between "jobs" and "deficits" that, despite its apparent simplicity, has obscured rather than clarified the policy choices ahead in the US, Europe, and elsewhere."
What's up with the word "dialectic" in there?  In a red-baiting environment in which Glenn Beck and Michele Bachman are running around bemoaning the "socialistic" tone of the Obama administration, why use a word which most people associate with Marx, Marxism and "dialectical materialism"?  I'm sure that Summers would object that he was using the word in the classic Hegelian sense of "thesis," "antithesis" and "synthesis," but if he thought he was doing so, he wasn't really thinking. 

I don't think there's a dialectical tension between "jobs" and "deficit." There is a dialogue around the concepts and their competing claims.  There is a need to balance the two concerns, sure.  But it's not a dialectic.  They are not going to merge with one another as part of the great narrative of history, as Hegel would have it.  Economists and policy makers will, instead, tinker with what tools they have and try to engage in dialogue with the electorate, the markets, and other constituent stakeholders to foster confidence in the powers that be, which is currently lacking.  Misuse of SAT words by senior team members who have a history of putting their foot in their mouths is not the best way to do this.



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