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
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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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