Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goldman Sachism?

I enjoy Felix Salmon and Mark Thoma's blogs a lot.  In the last day, both have lamented the possibility that Gene Sperling might replace Larry Summers; their grounds are basically that he is a protege of Robert Rubin and that he took money to work (essentially) as a consultant for Goldman Sachs.

I suppose I should disclose that I once got to sit next to and talk with Gene Sperling on an airplane from Jackson Hole to Denver, and he struck me as a person of great intelligence and even temperament.  That doesn't particularly matter--it does matter, however, that the people who I know who know him also regard him as a person of great intelligence and even temperament.  Let me emphasize the temperament part.  He also pushed for the very good idea of imposing Pigou taxes on banks.

So far as I know, his critics do not suggest that he is really personally deficient, but that he is a problem because (1) he worked in the Clinton Administration under Robert Rubin and/or (2) he received money from Goldman Sachs.  To me, the first part is actually a recommendation, but I feel the need to comment on the second.

Goldman Sachs has done things for which it should not be proud.  Does that mean that anyone who worked at/for the place should be disqualified from government?  In its history, the Ford Motor Company has done unlovely things; Boeing has done some not-so-great things; I am not please at some of the things my one-time employer, Freddie Mac, has done.  This does not mean people who worked at Ford, Boeing and Freddie Mac should be disqualified from government.  All these places, as well as Goldman Sachs, have many intelligent, honest, capable people.

If you have a beef with the substance of Sperling, fine.  If you think Furman would be better in the job, that is fine too.  But guilt by association is just too easy, and has its own ugly history.