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A Terrible Thing to Waste

Paul Romer

By Jack Rosenthal (original source NY Times)

“Just after Barack Obama’s election in November, Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, made this memorable statement to an interviewer: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The underlying insight is wise. In a sprawling, contentious democracy, competing interests suspend their antagonisms only when they have to confront an alarming common threat. The thought struck a universal chord and has since been attributed to Emanuel many times.

But there’s a problem: Authorship. Emanuel did not claim to be coining an epigram, only to be describing a moment of opportunity. Nevertheless, he was unwittingly echoing something that the Stanford economist Paul Romer said in November 2004 at a venture-capitalist meeting in California. Referring to the increasing competition that America faces from rapidly rising education levels in other countries, Romer said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”’

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