Larry Summers’ Open-Mic Moment

The president’s former economic adviser cries federal overreach at the idea of turning your BlackBerry off on an airplane.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
Lucia Graves
Oct. 24, 2013, 1:49 p.m.

Either Larry Sum­mers is try­ing out some open-mic ma­ter­i­al or he’s just a teensy bit lack­ing in self-aware­ness.

At a Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress event in Wash­ing­ton on Thursday he took shots at the pub­lic sec­tor, sug­gest­ing that laws to pre­vent air­line pas­sen­gers from keep­ing their Black­Berrys on dur­ing takeoff and land­ing is an ex­ample of fed­er­al over­reach.

“I can tell you that my wealthy friends who own air­planes — they don’t turn their Black­Berrys off,” said the former eco­nom­ic ad­viser to Pres­id­ent Obama, who re­cently aban­doned a bid for chair of the Fed­er­al Re­serve fol­low­ing ac­cus­a­tions from the left of be­ing overly anti-reg­u­la­tion. “I can tell you that the Secret Ser­vice does not go run­ning around check­ing people’s Black­Berrys on Air Force One.”

The punch­line: “If we want to re­new faith in the pub­lic sec­tor we’ve got to be open to fix­ing things like that.”

There are parts of the Fed­er­al Ad­min­is­tra­tion Au­thor­ity’s “everything must be switched off” rule that could be re­laxed and, in­deed, earli­er this fall an ad­vis­ory pan­el com­pleted re­com­mend­a­tions to ease many of the re­stric­tions (read­ing e-books, listen­ing to pod­casts, and watch­ing videos are now of­fi­cially OK). But the ban on tex­ting and email­ing, or mak­ing phone calls dur­ing takeoff or land­ing, re­mains in place be­cause it turns out that, like many of the reg­u­la­tions we ple­bei­ans must fol­low, there are reas­ons those rules are in place.

As avi­ation ex­pert and New York Times colum­nist Christine Neg­roni wrote re­cently, there ac­tu­ally have been cases of pi­lots re­port­ing elec­tron­ic devices in­ter­fer­ing with flight sys­tems, and to date there is no sci­entif­ic study by NASA dis­miss­ing con­cerns about the use of elec­tron­ic devices on air­planes. Hamza Bendemra made a sim­il­ar point in Life Hack­er this sum­mer in an art­icle titled “Why You Still Have To Switch Your Mo­bile Phone Off On Planes.” The takeaway point: It’s not worth the risk.

And an­oth­er thing: Who still uses Black­Berrys?

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story stated Sum­mers aban­doned a bid for sec­ret­ary of the Treas­ury. He aban­doned a bid for chair of the Fed­er­al Re­serve.

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