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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




May 25, 2016

"A lesson from on infrastructure from the Anderson Bridge fiasco"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

SOMETIMES SMALL stories capture large truths. So it is with the fiasco that is the repair of the Anderson Memorial Bridge, connecting Boston and Harvard Square. Rehabilitation of the 232-foot bridge began in 2012, at an estimated cost of about $20 million; four years later, there is no end date in sight and the cost of the project is mushrooming, to $26.5 million at last count.

This glacial pace of implementation does not reflect the intrinsic technical difficulty of the task. For comparison, the Anderson Bridge itself was originally completed in just 11 months in 1912. General George Patton constructed nearly 40 times as much bridging in six months as American soldiers crossed the Rhine to win World War II. And even modern-day examples abound; for instance, in 2011, 14 bridges in Medford were fixed in just 10 weekends. In contrast, the lapses exposed by the Anderson Bridge project hold key lessons for America’s broader inability to solve its infrastructure problems.



(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

May 24, 2016

"What you need to know about the next recession (starring Donald Trump)"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

How should we respond to the next recession? That was the topic of an event held by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, where I spoke Monday in Washington with White House budget director Sean Donovan. I argued a number of points that address current concerns.

First, I argued that the possible election of “Demagogue Donald” dwarfs congressional dysfunction as a threat to American prosperity. Beyond lunatic and incoherent budget and trade policies, Donald Trump would for the first time make political risk of the kind usually discussed in the context of Argentina, China or Russia relevant to the United States. How else to interpret threats to renegotiate debt, prosecuteinsubordinate publications and rip up treaties? Creeping fascism as an issue dwarfs macroeconomic policy!



Lionel Allorge

May 8, 2016

"Killing this ‘Bin Laden’ is a bloodless victory"


By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor

Most of the time, I use this column to recommend policy changes that I believe would make the world a better place. This time I am using it to salute a policy change that I believe will have important benefits and that carries with it important lessons. The decision of the European Central Bank (ECB) last week to end the production of 500-euro notes is a triumph of reasonable judgment over shameless fear-mongering. As an importantpaper published a few months ago by former Standard Chartered chief executive Peter Sands and his Harvard colleagues demonstrates, this change will make the world a safer, fairer place and carries important lessons for the future.



Rebecca Harms

May/June 2016

"The Fusion of Civilizations"

Magazine or Newspaper Article, Foreign Affairs

By Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor and Kishore Mahbubani

The mood of much of the world is grim these days. Turmoil in the Middle East, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and  millions of refugees; random terrorist attacks across the globe; geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe and Asia; the end of the commodity supercycle; slowing growth in China; and economic stagnation in many countries—all have combined to feed a deep pessimism about the present and, worse, the future.



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.

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.