Lawrence H. Summers is an American economist. He is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University, where he became one of the university's youngest tenured faculty at age 28.
The author of over 150 journal articles, Dr. Summers' wide-ranging contributions to economic research were recognized with the John Bates Clark Medal, given every two years to the outstanding American economist under the age of 40. He was also the first social scientist to receive the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award for outstanding scientific achievement.
Beyond his academic career, Dr. Summers has held a number of distinguished appointments in government. He previously served as Director of the National Economic Council for the Obama Administration, Secretary of the Treasury for the Clinton Administration, and Chief Economist of the World Bank.
Lawrence Summers received his S.B. from MIT and his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. He and his wife Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard, have six children.
Question: What are the greatest challenges that the U.S. is confronting?
Lawrence Summers: For us, it’s going to be regaining our balance after the last eight years [of two George W. Bush administrations]. Power depends on legitimacy, and legitimacy depends on a perception of competence. And in important ways, we’ve sacrificed that.
For us, it’s a matter of crafting an international system that both enables countries to flourish, and at the same time sets some parameters within which they flourish.
I think it’s harder to know just what the right questions even are with respect to the revolution in the life sciences. It’s easier to see how it can go wrong. People, because they’re scared of it and cause it to show up elsewhere, people can let the genie out of the bottle in ways that they later come to regret. People can move too slowly, and as a result, miss potential huge opportunities.
I think all of these more negative outcomes are risks. I think they’re risks that will be exacerbated if the United States abdicates in the establishment of international norms in these areas, because I think for all our failings, the kinds of norms that we establish are likely to be more constructive than the kinds of norms that would be established in our absence.
Recorded On: June 13, 2007