Basic funding for The Baffler now comes from a deal Summers struck in 2011 with MIT Press: The publisher would give Summers $33,000 per issue over the course of the next five years. While that’s more than the magazine historically had to work with, it’s not enough to fund everything that Summers wants to do. He talks about raising several million dollars to found a research institute—“like the conservatives have”—that would employ writers like Frank, Lehmann, and Graeber and give them license to explore their interests without having to hustle for book contracts and freelance assignments. “[We’d be] making the free-market dogma seem as ridiculous as it is,” he says.

So he has been forced to fundraise, to seek out the sorts of rich donors who might be willing to fund an anti-free-market organization. “We estimate there might be 200 to 500 of them,” Summers said last fall. “But you can’t just send them a letter.” At first, it was rough going. “One woman, we’d have very pleasant conversations,” he said. “At the end, there was nothing. And I realized: I paid for lunch. Every time. I lost money.” With some coaching, Summers has gradually learned how to approach these people and solicit donations.

There are other new responsibilities, too: meetings with publishers, speaking engagements. After a life spent primarily on the intellectual outskirts, he seems pleased and occasionally surprised to find himself in a position of relative prominence. “The company I keep is a hell of a lot better than when I was an adjunct teacher,” he says.

Summers now travels from Boston to New York a couple times a month to meet with potential funders and donors. During a recent breakfast, he spoke of plans to put all the magazine’s archived content online, for free, in order to expand the audience and attract new readers. Despite his protestations to the contrary, he looked, for all the world, like a magazine editor. “This is the transformation,” he said, smiling as he reached for the check. “Now I have an iPhone, I have a second tie, and I can pay for breakfast.”


Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.