Belfer Center Home > People > Lawrence Summers

« Back to list of experts

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




August 9, 2015

"Corporate long-termism is no panacea — but it is a start"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

There are not many wholly new areas to open up in economic policy. But in recent months there has been a wave of innovative proposals directed at improving economic performance in general, and middle-class incomes in particular — not through government actions but through mandates or incentives to change business decision-making. The goal is for companies and shareholders to operate with longer horizons and to more generously share the fruits of their corporate success with their workers, customers and other stakeholders.

There are strong grounds for interest in such approaches. After the crises of recent years, the case for relying on speculative markets to drive the real economy — to whatever extent it had validity — is surely attenuated. Instances where successful companies with strong management teams and records of investment have been forced to curtail investment plans are a cause of concern. And we would all like to see middle-class incomes do a better job of keeping up with productivity than they have in recent years.




July 12, 2015

"Incrementalism won't cure these crises"

Op-Ed, Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Against a backdrop of slow and diminishing growth forecasts, recent months and especially recent weeks have seen an extraordinary level of financial drama. While not rising to the level of systemic global crisis of 2008, or the 1997 Asia-Russia-Brazil Long-Term Capital Management period of great uncertainty, markets everywhere seem to be thwarting political aspirations.



Wikimedia Commons

July 4, 2015

"Tomorrow Greece votes"


By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Tomorrow Greece votes. No one can know the outcome yet. Indeed, my bet is that a third of the voters are not yet sure how they will vote. If polls could not get the British election right, I doubt that they can get this one right. Anything can happen, and it would not surprise me if the vote is a landslide, one way or the other.



(AP Photo)

June 22, 2015

"The consequences of Greece’s impending breakdown"

Op-Ed, Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

When, as now appears likely, Greece financially separates from Europe, it will at one level be no one’s fault. The Greek leaders will rightly explain that having imposed more austerity on themselves than any industrial country has suffered since the Depression, they could not do more without light at the end of tunnel in the form of a clear commitment to debt relief. European leaders will rightly explain that they adjusted their positions repeatedly to accommodate the Greeks. They will stress that their publics would not permit Greece to play by different rules than the rest of Europe. And the International Monetary Fund will rightly explain that it would have blessed any plan agreed to by Greece and Europe that added up.



Charles Dharapak

June 14, 2015

"Rescuing the free trade deals"

Op-Ed, Foreign Affairs

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

The Senate’s rejection of President Wo odrow Wilson’s commitment of the United States to the League of Nations was the greatest setback to U.S. global leadership of the last century. While not remotely as consequential, the votes in the House last week that, unless revisited, would doom the Trans-Pacific Partnership send the same kind of negative signal regarding the willingness of the United States to take responsibility for the global system at a critical time.

The repudiation of the TPP would neuter the U.S. presidency for the next 19 months. It would reinforce global concerns that the vicissitudes of domestic politics are increasingly rendering the United States a less reliable ally. Coming on top of the American failure to either stop or join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it would signal a lack of U.S. commitment to Asia at a time when China is flexing its muscles. It would leave the grand strategy of rebalancing U.S. foreign policy toward Asia with no meaningful nonmilitary component. And it would strengthen the hands of companies overseas at the expense of U.S. firms. Ultimately, having a world in which U.S. companies systematically lose ground to foreign rivals would not work out to the advantage of American workers.

Both the House and Senate have now delivered majorities for the trade promotion authority necessary to complete the TPP. The problem is with the complementary trade assistance measures that most Republicans do not support and that Democrats are opposing in order to bring down the TPP. It is to be fervently hoped that a way through will be found to avoid a catastrophe for U.S. economic leadership. Perhaps success can be achieved if the TPP’s advocates can acknowledge that rather than being a model for future trade agreements, this debate should lead to careful reflection on the role of trade agreements in America’s international economic strategy.



(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.

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.