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Lawrence Summers

Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Member of the Board, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs




Lawrence H. Summers is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus of Harvard University. During the past two decades, he has served in a series of senior policy positions in Washington, D.C., including the 71st Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton, Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama and Vice President of Development Economics and Chief Economist of the World Bank.

He received a bachelor of science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 and was awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1982. In 1983, he became one of the youngest individuals in recent history to be named as a tenured member of the Harvard University faculty. In 1987, Mr. Summers became the first social scientist ever to receive the annual Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and in 1993 he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, given every two years to the outstanding American economist under the age of 40.

He is currently the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University and the Weil Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He and his wife Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard, reside in Brookline with their six children.



By Date



(AP Photo)

April 5, 2015

"Time U.S. leadership woke up to new economic era"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system. True, there have been any number of periods of frustration for the US before, and times when American behaviour was hardly multilateralist, such as the 1971 Nixon shock, ending the convertibility of the dollar into gold. But I can think of no event since Bretton Woods comparable to the combination of China’s effort to establish a major new institution and the failure of the US to persuade dozens of its traditional allies, starting with Britain, to stay out of it.



(AP Photo)

March 8, 2015

"A Deal Worth Getting Right"

Op-Ed, Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Over the next few months, the question of U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is likely to be resolved one way or the other. It is, to put it mildly, a highly controversial issue. Proponents believe a deal is essential to both our economic and geopolitical interests; opponents fear that it will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of middle-class living standards.


Any international agreement must be judged not just against our aspirations, but also against our alternatives. No plausible TPP deal will achieve all that we want. But it should be possible to negotiate an agreement that is much better than the alternative of growing trade shaped only by agreements that exclude the United States. I hope and expect that when it is presented for approval, the TPP will meet this test.



Wikimedia Commons

January 18, 2015

"Focus on growth for the middle class"

Op-Ed, Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

The most challenging economic issue ahead of us involves a group that will barely be represented at this week’s annual Davos summit: the middle classes of the world’s industrial countries. As the Center for American Progress’s Inclusive Prosperity Commission, which I co-chaired with Ed Balls, the top economic official in Britain’s Labor Party, concludes in a new report, nothing is more important to the success of industrial democracies than sustained increases in wages and living standards for working families.



AP Photo/Mel Evans

January 4, 2015

"Let This Be the Year When We Put a Proper Price on Carbon"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

The case for carbon taxes has long been compelling, writes Lawrence Summers. "With the recent steep fall in oil prices and associated declines in other energy prices it is overwhelming. There is room for debate about the size of the tax and about how the proceeds should be deployed. But there should be no doubt that starting from the current zero tax rate on carbon, increased taxation would be desirable."



Wikimedia Commons

October 7, 2014

"Why public investment really is a free lunch"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

It has been joked that the letters IMF stand for “it’s mostly fiscal”. The International Monetary Fund has long been a stalwart advocate of austerity as the route out of financial crisis, and every year it chastises dozens of countries for their fiscal indiscipline. Fiscal consolidation – a euphemism for cuts to government spending – is a staple of the fund’s rescue programmes. A year ago the IMF was suggesting that the US had a fiscal gap of as much as 10 per cent of gross domestic product.




August 10, 2014

Second-Term Presidents Cost America 40 Lost Years

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Disillusionment with Washington has rarely run higher. Congress is unable to act even in areas where there is widespread agreement that new measures are necessary, such as immigration, infrastructure and business tax reform. Barack Obama’s administration is condemned as ineffectual with respect to both domestic and foreign policy.



July 10, 2014

"Overcoming the Great Recession: Lessons from China"


By Liu He, Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School and Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

In the aftershocks of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, Liu He led a research team that prepared an analysis of earlier financial crises to provide guidance for the Chinese government’s response. Graham Allison and Lawrence Summers arranged for that document to be translated and have published it here as a joint discussion paper of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School.

Summers and Allison, who wrote the foreword for the paper, introduce it with comments on why they think Liu He's perspective is so valuable.



(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

July 6, 2014

"Put American Foreign Policy Back on the Pitch"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Sports coaches know that there is nothing more dangerous for a team than retreating into passivity for fear of making a mistake. Whether it is due to a desire to sit on a lead, or because of nerves following a setback, failing to advance aggressively is almost always a strategic error.

What is true in athletic competition is all too true in the life of nations. While imprudence is always unwise, excessive caution in the name of prudence or expediency can have grave consequences. A nation will never have more power or influence than it has ambition to shape the global system. A sense of fatalism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as adversaries are emboldened and allies move either to appease adversaries or to provide for their own security.



(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

June 8, 2014

"The Rich Have Advantages That Money Cannot Buy"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

With the popularity of Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century, inequality has become central to the public debate over economic policy. Piketty, and much of this discussion, focuses on the sharp increases in the share of income and wealth going to the top 1 per cent, 0.1 per cent and 0.01 per cent of the population.



May 16, 2014

"Thomas Piketty Is Right About the Past and Wrong About the Future"

Op-Ed, The Atlantic

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Once in a great while, a heavy academic tome dominates for a time the policy debate and, despite bristling with footnotes, shows up on the best-seller list. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is such a volume. As with Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which came out at the end of the Reagan Administration and hit a nerve by arguing the case against imperial overreach through an extensive examination of European history, Piketty’s treatment of inequality is perfectly matched to its moment.



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