Larry Summers bumbles again

On the weekend shows, Obama's top economic advisors disagree as to whether the recession is over

Topics: U.S. Economy, Larry Summers, Great Recession, How the World Works,

From Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook on Sunday, summarizing the appearances of President Obama’s top two economic advisors on the weekend news shoes:

TRICK QUESTION: Is the recession over?

SHOT — Larry Summers, on “This Week”: “Today, everybody agrees that the recession is over, and the question is what the pace of the expansion is going to be.”

CHASER — Christina Romer, on “Meet the Press”: “Of course not. For the people on Main Street and throughout this country, they are still suffering.”

Technically speaking, Larry Summers is probably correct. Although the National Bureau of Economic Research has yet to declare an “official” end to the recession, most economists believe that it ended earlier this fall or possibly even in the late summer. GDP is growing again (with a large number of analysts predicting a very robust fourth quarter) and a number of other economic indicators have stabilized or moved into positive territory.

But, of course, the job picture is terrible. More than 7 million Americans have lost their jobs since the start of the recession, and it will likely require years before we are back to pre-recession employment levels. Unemployment is a lagging indicator — it can continue to get worse long after a recession technically ends, but that is of slight comfort to the people on Main Street who, as Romer points out, “are still suffering.”

So Summers and Romer, despite the “trick question,” are not necessarily contradicting each other, and maybe we can take some heart in the fact that Obama’s White House does not speak in robotically identical talking points. But I will give readers one guess as to what’s more important, politically speaking, as we approach the 2010 midterm elections; whether or not the recession is technically over, or the fact that unemployment is at 10 percent?

Which leads to the real puzzler. Larry Summers is a former Treasury secretary who has been around the block and is by all accounts a smart guy. Long before his service in the current administration, he’d been a veteran of countless appearances on news shows like “This Week.” Christina Romer, on the other hand, is an academic economist whose previous life included nothing resembling her current prominence.

But which advisor has consistently displayed a better knack for political savvy and sensitivity to the concerns of American citizens? Keep an eye on that woman — she’s got a future.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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