Toxic Trait To Avoid #1

By James Kwak

I generally refuse to be drawn into the Yellen-Summers horse race because (a) everything that can be said, has been said, (b) I have no original information or insight, and (c) it’s all speculation anyway. But I’m going to comment on one parenthesis in Felix Salmon’s good summary post, since it has broader application:

Summers is, to put it mildly, not good at charming those he considers to be his inferiors, but he’s surprisingly excellent at cultivating people with real power.

In my personal experience, especially in the business world, this is absolutely the worst personality trait you can find in anyone you are thinking of hiring. You see it a lot, especially in senior executives. Unfortunately, at the time of hiring, you only see the ability to manage up—not the inability to treat subordinates decently. By the time you figure it out, you’ve already suffered serious organizational damage. (Thanks to my friend Marcus Ryu for identifying this problem so clearly.)

Powerful, self-confident people—like Barack Obama—are especially vulnerable, because they tend to make decisions based on intuitive judgments, and they form those judgments based on personal impressions—exactly the thing that two-faced psychopaths are good at making. (I’m not saying that Larry Summers is necessarily a psychopath, mind you—but apparently a lot of corporate CEOs are.)

This is just another reason that it makes sense to hire people based on their objective records, not the warm fuzzy feeling you get from the job interview. Thankfully, Summers has a record to go on. Hopefully Obama will keep it in mind.

31 responses to “Toxic Trait To Avoid #1

  1. Besides that Larry Summers has a history of foot-in-mouth disease like over women scientists from his time heading Harvard. Not what we want at the Fed!!

  2. A nice book to read on the toilet: The psychopath test..

  3. Powerful, self-confident people—like Barack Obama—are especially vulnerable, because they tend to make decisions based on intuitive judgments, and they form those judgments based on personal impressions—exactly the thing that two-faced psychopaths are good at making. (I’m not saying that Larry Summers is necessarily a psychopath, mind you—but apparently a lot of corporate CEOs are.)

    I’m saying it!! Summers is a psychopath.

  4. Michael M Thomas

    A body of research at the University of Nottingham (UK) strongly indicates that sociopathic/psychopathic personalities prosper in finance and politics. No wonder life has taken L.Summers along the paths it has.

  5. Summers, as president of Harvard University, met with an audience of perhaps 200 writers and journalists assembled for a weekend program sponsored by the Neiman Foundation. He talked to us about globalization and how it would “save” the world. A member of the audience asked about workers in the U.S., and whether they would lose their jobs. Summers said some would but brushed it aside with talk about “in the long run, people will be equal.” Another questioned what would happen to American workers, but that question didn’t interest Summers. All he was interested in were his policy ideas. For Summers neither subordinates nor the masses are worth caring about.

  6. “Serious organizational damage” sounds like what Summers has left behind, everywhere he worked.

    I wrote a post on him, slightly over four years ago, and it still rings true to me.

    And I got to thinking, well, what are the differences between Palin and Summers? There seem to be three: Summers is a guy, Summers is actually smart rather than just over-confident, and Summers is the trusted son of of privilege. But why would you put someone so arrogantly wrong-headed in charge of, well, anything?

    Damn, why do we have so much trouble dealing with the smooth-talking criminals?

  7. For more on serious organizational damage see story by David McClintick “How Harvard Lost Russia” and Harvard Crimson article, urls below.
    http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/Article/1025828/
    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/2/10/tawdry-shleifer-affair-stokes-faculty-anger/#

  8. First – Obama doesn’t make these decisions. The socalled leaderofthefreeworld is a puppet, a spaniel doing the unholy bidding, and advancing the best interests of the predatorclass who are all psychopaths! Ie – no empathy! Lack of guilt. Supremist , et al!

    Summers is quite obviously a psychopath and psychology aside we can expect zero changes to the predatory status quo under a Summers Fed. Hence he is the perfect and only choice for the predatorclass psychopaths to Chair the Fed! Summers will pursue policies that futher enrich and shield the predatorclass and increase the burdens, hazards, and institutional disadvantages that plague and blight working Americans!

    Obama works for, bows to, is dependent on, and is a spaniel of the predatorclass – and Summers will Chair the Fed!

    More reason to burn it all down! Reset! There’s no other option for the 99%!!!

  9. Thomas Mullaney

    Summers’ trashing of Brooksly Born disqualifies him from ANY post requiring regulatory oversight of financial institutions.

  10. I have a more topical question, though.. you mention that ‘CEO hirers’ should select people based on past performance. What gives you the idea that the people who are put on a committee to hire a CEO care particularly about how CEOs treat their underlings? As I understand it, a lot of these decisions are made on the basis of magical beliefs about how CEOs can cut cost for decades on end, without this negatively affecting the long-term viability of the company. Having read Mark Ames’s Going Postal, I feel forced to humbly suggest that the people who have the power to hire corporate-level execs are precisely the people who don’t want to think so much about the fact that CEOs have human underlings at all, preferring to think of the employees as ‘assets’ (that can and should be disposed of as soon as they become inconvenient to hold) rather than people..

  11. So many talented minds pruning up the scientific rigor behind “psychology” for decades upon decades of modern medical research, and so many abnormal brain conditions addressed with medications, and here a correct diagnosis about leadership does not ring any alarm bells.

    Odd, creepy, and hellish – that kind of arrogant because I’ve seen it all and life is not fair “meh”

    and then exhibiting exasperation that you have to explain why psychopaths are the only ones qualified to do the work of a leader in the big business of “health care”.

    I guess someone in Big Pharma told them that – that psychopaths are the only qualified leaders…they ran the test themselves and that’s what the results were. Otherwise, why no alarm bells?

    Look, it’s FAIR to ask what the danger is to “national security” when Prima Facie evidence provides proof that the industry built around the care of the health of the human species and the web of life on the planet is in the hands of a gene pool that has a blood lust for money. Not ambition, narcissism, adventurism, not even a delusional, albeit sincere, religious belief, but a blood lust. A moveable feast…the congolese savage business model lived a long time off Detroit – lot of wars…lot of “policy”….

  12. Moses Herzog

    Larry Summers was a huge supporter of Enron when they were raping the California consumer with intentional and conspired blackouts to mislead people that there were power shortages that did NOT exist.

  13. Moses Herzog

    These are the Basturds Larry Summers came to the rescue for. Of course when it came to mortgage cramdowns in 2009 for unemployed Americans Larry Summers thought all those blue-collar Americans could just go F*ck themselves. But these guys at Enron, Larry Summers says “don’t mess with them, don’t interfere, let Enron and CFTC anally rape the California consumer”.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2008/11/12/larry-summers-and-enron.html

  14. Lawrence Summers has a general reputation for insensitivity, which sometimes happens to genius who concentrate on the problem at hand and forget the social implications of their thoughts. There is also an example of an email he wrote while at the World Bank in which he argued in favor of dumping trash in Africa as the African nations could receive income for the service rendered. It seemed perfectly reasonable for him. At the Fed there is a need for someone with more concern for how actions and speech are perceived than the content of those actions, such as Greenspan. Or maybe not? Maybe it is time for someone with the necessary will and conviction to exit quantitative easing without concern for critique. In that case, Summers has already made a strong case for himself.

  15. Summers come before winter and there’s always a fall in-between.

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  17. Robert Kuttner: http://huff.to/130ClO6 :
    “(Larry) Summers would be terrible because he is part of the Robert Rubin crowd that brought us the financial collapse and then worked to save Wall Street from the mess the bankers made. As Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Summers worked to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, to promote global financial speculation, to block derivatives regulation, and to isolate the heroic Brooksley Born. In the summer and fall of 2008, working in the Obama campaign, he managed to shove aside Paul Volcker, an early Obama supporter, into a purely ceremonial position.” “Summers is also entirely wrong for the job temperamentally. Even though he has a history of making big mistakes, Summers is a person who is often wrong but never in doubt. He’s a bully. Bernanke, by contrast, has been the most collegial Federal Reserve chairman ever. Unlike his predecessors, who typically ran the Fed as a one-man show, Bernanke has gone out of his way to share authority with the other governors and to operate a collegial institution.”

    Lawrence Summers: People who live in glass(Steagall) houses shouldn’t throw stones. I deregulated the broader economy so you could obtain your stinkin’ loan for pennies on the dollar. And yes, as a matter fact I did pass the MMPI with flying colors: http://goo.gl/AakN6Z

  18. The most concise expression of the behaviour described is “kiss up, kick down”, a phrase I learned from the former head of the State Dept Policy Planning Staff when he used it to describe John Bolton during the latter’s (failed) confirmation hearings to be W’s UN Ambassador. Such people are beyond toxic: they are metastatic, in that they tend to fill the ranks below themselves with similar thugs.

  19. Looks like FIAT $$$$ is the most efficient con job ever invented at manufacturing poverty better than anything else human beings have achieved.

    New World Order – using ONLY the same 50 political words in new sentence configurations to make sure that they remain authoritative in their meaninglessness, has decreed:

    1. Every human being does NOT have the right to make their lives less miserable through HONEST WORK – like making robots who can retrieve all the radioactivity, and plastic waste, and oil spills, and fecal matter from large cities who do not treat their waste, from out of the oceans….the displaced worker who has no right to clean up their poop or the poison the mas’ser left on the “factory”, air, water, soil….

    2. There is no land to man ratio that needs to be established and maintained because the global model is the “congolese savage model” – kill everyone who put up Detroit and then live off the fruits of their LABOR, then move on to the next village – economic genocide.

    3. Embezzle “little people” taxes to pay for the “technology” that can conduct economic genocide by hitting “enter” on your smart phone.

    Time is still distributed as “Now”. Everyone is in the “Now”, no one has control over the “Now”. So anyone can play….

    Yeah, that 360 degree head spin trick when you call them out for iniquity doesn’t work anymore – what else you got? Another “derivatives” algorithm…?

    The rabid raccoon neo cons were out first thing this morning – Rattner and Iglesias – following the protocol to the letter….

    Legaltainment brought to you by Pharisee, Inc. – the “too big to prosecute” guys who never needed any regulation….ridiculous…a Pharisee being too big to prosecute because he was too genius to follow the rules….the PROOF of their economic genius is DETROIT – that’s how you do it – “money for nothing and chicks for free”….

  20. kiss up kick down

  21. Both Gene Sperling and Jack Lew were pressed on their view of a Lawrence Summers’ nomination to the Fed; both equivocated and repeating the WH talking points of how they (and Summers) saved the economy from going off a fiscal cliff; therefore qualifying Summers over Yellen. As CNN’s Candy Crowley responded: “been-there-done-that” “that was then, what about now,” “what have you done for us lately.” “you’re only as good as your last bail-out, bail-in policy.”

    “NYT: ….. And there were reports yesterday that you are very close to naming Larry Summers as the new Fed chairman. True?
    MR. OBAMA: I have not made a final decision. I’ve narrowed it down to some extraordinarily qualified candidates.”

    “Extraordinarily qualified candidates” could also mean capitalism for the masses, socialism (rent-seeking) for those in power, without actually coming out and admitting it.

  22. today’s

    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html

    back in reality….

    Need a Union of Ethical Scientists to take out the “toxic” in virtual lalaland?

  23. Larry “the Tick” Summers. Dissed Obama (he was “looking around for adults”) in Obama’s first couple of years – and yet is still in play for this job. Remarkable. Some kiss this tick must have.

  24. Federal Reserve members not exactly your ‘Bradley Mannings’ of the world. http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/07/31-7.

  25. Moses Herzog

    You wanna know what happens when you have a complete narcissist, who thinks that the people nearest to him who he happens to “take a shining to” are the best ones qualified for a job??? Or who thinks a man who has had his head up his A S S since forever, and swung a bat for him at the party convention is the best man to be Secretary of State??? You get C R A P like THIS:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/world/asia/02pakistan.html?_r=1&

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-30/al-qaeda-backers-found-with-u-s-contracts-in-afghanistan.html

    HEY!!!!! Barack “THE SUPREME NARCISSIST” Obama!!! Yes!!!! YOU!!!! Wake up from your dream where you are the center of the universe and all qualified candidates reside within arm distance of the supreme narcissist.

    Larry Summers is NOT the guy for Fed Chair and if you think he is because he shared a diet coke with you more than once or explained the asininity of the Laffer curve while sharing a challah, you’re thinking like an idiot. If you want to choose a member of “the tribe” choose a man who at least puts on airs he actually cares for poor people—Stanley Fischer—not a JACK A S S, (i.e. Larry Summers) who cares more for his private tennis matches over helping families afford their mortgages.

  26. Moses Herzog

    This is what you get when a narcissist fools himself, that his “pals” or people who swung the bat for him at the party convention deserve jobs with actual responsibility. You get THIS, from the nation that says “we will not reward those who harbor terrorists”:

  27. Moses Herzog

    I guess now, according to Clueless Kerry, we are “strategic partners” with those who harbor terrorists.

    It’s a policy change??? Or really just something we have done for decades??? That is, bribe Middle East countries (read dictators and corrupt governments) with BILLIONS of dollars and “sweets” so that they can go ahead and do whatever the hell they want anyway.

  28. Trying to play politics won’t get you to far here Moses. Rather than that, I would simply say his approve would only show how poor a quality of choices we have today, and where is it that this administration/country is going? To hell in a hand basket I say.

  29. The advice is extremely useful.

  30. The Limerick Bishop

    Look at the day, look at the the time.

    A slanted ray of ink pierces the words
    where 14th and Twain shall meet.

    Once filled in, it creates efficiencies
    to be use during showtime.

    For showtime is
    No Time for changing your mind.

  31. It would just seem that the record of all the leaders in finance from the late 90’s through to 2009 are all suspect. Greenspan used to be spoken of with huge regard and now he is either not mentioned or looked at as having incorrect ideas. How Yellen could be passed over, it just seems impossible given the history of the Fed and common sense.