Is Rubin the new McNamara?

Via Felix Salmon, Harold Meyerson has a provocative op ed in the Washington Post where he draws the parallel between the recently passed Robert McNamara and former Treasury Secretary and Citigroup chairman Robert Rubin. He rehashes McNamara's well-known flaws:
McNamara's hubris was that of a hyper-rationalist. He and his whiz kids, his systems analysts and efficiency experts, stormed into an intellectually sleepy capital determined to subject what had been the haphazard realm of policy to scientific measurement.
While some draw parallels between McNamara and the architects of the Iraq War, these are superficial, says Meyerson. Instead:
The real successors to McNamara's whiz kids are the economic geniuses, the "quants," who figured out how to build a tower of investment on a dot of assets, arbitrage everything, and hedge any risk, except, of course, the ones that plunged us into a depression.


If there's an analogous figure to McNamara in this mess, then, it's probably Rubin -- socially liberal, like McNamara; concerned with the world's poor, like McNamara; architect, like McNamara, of a system perfected by the best minds of his time, a system that should have worked but that failed catastrophically.
The parallel is striking - I applaud Meyerson for pointing it out. He also ends on a hopeful note:
Rubin's repentance is a private matter, but the lessons that his protégés Larry Summers and Tim Geithner derive from the failure of deregulated hypercapitalism are of the utmost public concern... If we're lucky, the image of Bob McNamara calculating the war on his slide rule, and spending the subsequent decades trying to understand where he went wrong, may bring them to their senses. It certainly should do that for us.
Let's hope that all of us can learn constructively from the mistakes that have been made, recent or not.

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