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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



April 15, 2016

"Larry Summers Reflects"

Op-Ed, Harvard Magazine

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

THE DECADE since Lawrence H. Summers departed Massachusetts Hall, the former Harvard president, now Eliot University Professor, took a sabbatical; resumed teaching; joined President Barack Obama’s administration to help secure recovery from the recession; and then re-engaged as a teacher, economics scholar, and participant in high-level policy discussions around the globe. Harvard Magazine visited Summers at his Kennedy School office for a reflective conversation about these activities and some of the ideas that interest him now.



John Walker

April 5, 2016

"If we really valued excellence, we would single it out"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell wrote a column last week about grade inflation that reminded me of an issue that has long interested me as an economist and as a president of Harvard.

I remember many years ago listening to some monetarist quote Milton Friedman one too many times, saying, "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon."  I responded, "What about grade inflation?"

March 6, 2016

"Economic policymakers are at sea on inflation"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Here is a thought experiment that illuminates the challenges facing macroeconomic policymakers in the United States and the rest of the industrial world.



Gage Skidmore

March 1, 2016

"Trump a threat to U.S. democracy"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

While comparisons between Donald Trump and Mussolini or Hitler are overwrought, Trump’s rise does illustrate how democratic processes can lose their way and turn toxic when there is intense economic frustration and widespread apprehension about the future.

This is especially the case when some previously respected leaders scurry to make peace in a new order — yes, Chris Christie, I mean you.



Phillip Taylor

February 25, 2016

"In defense of killing the $100 bill"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor and Peter Sands

Our advocacy for ending the printing of high denomination notes — first in a working paper by Peter and colleagues and, later in a post by Larry — have been attacked on the ground that this proposal represents an infringement on liberty (for example, see here and here). Most prominently, the Wall Street Journal concludes an editorial with the remarkable assertion: “Beware politicians trying to limit the way you can conduct private economic business. It never turns out well.”

There are two levels of illogic here. First, even the most ardent libertarian recognizes the need for antifraud statues, limits on what can be contracted, and requirements of tax withholding, so the general principle that government should not affect the conduct of private business is absurd.

February 7, 2016

"No free lunches but plenty of cheap ones"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

The idea that it is possible to achieve apparently conflicting objectives is not confined to public policy. Henry Ford, with his famous $5 working day, both made his workers better off and raised his profits. Ford’s example has recently been followed by AetnaWalmart and others.

January 10, 2016

"Why the Fed needs to prepare for the worst right now"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Often markets are volatile at the end of the year — as many traders go on holiday and those with losses unload them — and then settle down as a new year begins. Not this year. U.S. and European markets closed significantly lower on Friday after a very rough week despite a very strong U.S. jobs report. The week’s economic news was dominated by dramatic declines in China’s stock market and currency; the week also saw a further plunge in oil priceseven in the face of major tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.



Gage Skidmore

December 29, 2015

"Here’s what Bernie Sanders gets wrong – and right – about the Fed"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Sen. Bernie Sanders had an op-ed in the New York Times on Federal Reserve reform last week that provides an opportunity to reflect on the Fed and financial reform more generally. I think that Sanders is right in his central point that financial policy is overly influenced by financial interests to its detriment and that it is essential that this be repaired. At the same time, reform requires careful reflection if it is not to be counterproductive. And it is important in approaching issues of reform not to give ammunition to right-wing critics of the Fed who would deny it the capacity to engage in the kind of crisis responses that, judged in their totality, have been successful in responding to the financial crisis. The most important policy priority with respect to the Fed is protecting it from stone-age monetary ideas like a return to the gold standard, or turning policymaking over to a formula, or removing the dual-mandate commanding the Fed to worry about unemployment as well as inflation.

December 15, 2015

"Larry Summers: What the Federal Reserve got wrong, and what it should do next"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

The Federal Reserve meets this week and has strongly signaled that it will raise rates. Given the strength of the signals that have been sent, it would becredibility destroyingnot to carry through with the rate increase, so there is no interesting discussion to be had about what should be done on Wednesday. Donaldson

December 7, 2015

"Central bankers do not have as many tools as they think"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

While debate about the relevance of the secular stagnation idea to current economic conditions continues to rage, there is now almost universal acceptance of a crucial part of the argument. It is agreed that the “neutral” interest rate, which neither boosts nor constrains growth, has declined substantially and is likely to be lower in the future than in the past throughout the industrial world because of a growing relative abundance of savings relative to investment.

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.