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Thu Feb 23, 2012, 11:05 AM

EXCLUSIVE: The Memo that Larry Summers Didn’t Want Obama to See [View all]

EXCLUSIVE: The Memo that Larry Summers Didn’t Want Obama to See

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Now, based on reporting I’ve done for my forthcoming book on the Obama administration, I can fill in a major gap in the narrative—an earlier version of the same memo that includes Romer’s larger option. (A source provided the memo on the condition that he not be named.) In this version of the memo, Romer calculated that it would take an eye-popping $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion to fill the entire hole in the economy—the “output gap,” in economist-speak. “An ambitious goal would be to eliminate the output gap by 2011–Q1 [the first quarter of 2011], returning the economy to full employment by that date,” she wrote. “To achieve that magnitude of effective stimulus using a feasible combination of spending, taxes and transfers to states and localities would require package costing about $1.8 trillion over two years.” Alas, these words never made it into the memo the president saw.

By clicking on the graphic below, you can examine the relevant section of Romer’s version of the memo alongside the final version that Lizza recently published. What’s striking is that the two versions are very similar, except that the paragraph in which Romer makes the case for $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion has simply vanished.

LARGER GRAPH HERE: http://www.tnr.com/sites/default/files/WhiteHouseMemo.pdf


What happened? When Romer showed Summers her $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion figure late the week before the memo was due, he dismissed it as impractical. So Romer spent the next day or two coming up with a reasonable compromise: $1.2 trillion. In a revised document that she sent Summers over the weekend, she included the $1.2 trillion figure, along with two more limited options: about $600 billion and about $850 billion.

At first, Summers gave her every indication that all three figures would appear in the memo he was sending the president-elect. But with less than twenty-four hours before the memo needed to be in Obama’s hands, Summers informed her that he was inclined to strike the $1.2 trillion figure. Though Summers, like Romer, believed more stimulus was almost unambiguously better, he also felt that a $1.2 trillion proposal, to say nothing of $1.8 trillion, would be dead on arrival in Congress. Moreover, since Obama’s political operatives were convinced that any stimulus approaching a trillion dollars was hopeless, Summers worried that urging more than this amount would stamp him and Romer as oblivious in their eyes. “$1.2 trillion is nonplanetary,” he told Romer, invoking a Summers-ism for “ludicrous.” “People will think we don’t get it.”

the rest:
http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/100961/memo-Larry-Summers-Obama

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Reply EXCLUSIVE: The Memo that Larry Summers Didn’t Want Obama to See [View all]
kpete Feb 2012 OP
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