What Larry Summers Told Me

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The following is an excerpt from Elizabeth Warren’s memoir, A Fighting Chance. The Massachusetts senator talks to Bill this week about taking on the entrenched political and Wall Street interests that have rigged the game against the rest of us.

Larry Summers (Photo: Chatham House/Flickr CC 2.0)
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions a witness at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on money laundering on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

In early April, I got a call from the office of Larry Summers. I didn’t know Larry well, but I’d met him a few times while he was president of Harvard in the early 2000s. According to reports, Larry had been Tim Geithner’s mentor when they were both in the Treasury Department in the 1990s. Now Larry was the director of the National Economic Council, which meant that, along with Secretary Geithner, he advised President Obama on economic issues. Would I be interested in meeting him for dinner?

Sure, I replied. Larry’s office suggested the Bombay Club, an Indian restaurant near the White House. Quiet and softly lit, it served Washington’s power elite.

When Larry arrived for our dinner, he ordered a Diet Coke as soon as he sat down. He glanced at the menu, ordered quickly and soon the food started coming.

Publisher: Macmillan Publishers, 384 pages

Publisher: Macmillan Publishers, 384 pages

It was a long dinner, with plenty of intense back-and-forth about everything from the bailout, to deregulation, to the foreclosure crisis. I also talked to Larry about an idea I’d been working on for a new consumer financial agency and he seemed interested. We didn’t agree on everything, but I give Larry full credit: I’ll take honest conversation and debate any day of the week over the duck-and-cover stuff I so often saw in Washington that spring.

Late in the evening, Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. By now, I’d lost count of Larry’s Diet Cokes, and our table was strewn with bits of food and spilled sauces. Larry’s tone was in the friendly-advice category. He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.

I had been warned.

Excerpted from A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren with permission from Macmillan Publishers. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Screengrab from Elizabeth Warren on NOW.
Elizabeth Warren is the senior senator from Massachusetts and a member of the Democratic Party. She served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and later established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She is a former professor at Harvard Law School and author of a number of books. You can follow her on Twitter @SenWarren.
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