How do you contribute?
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: How do you contribute?
Lawrence Summers: I hope we understand how data, and not just argument, can inform thinking about economic decisions to a greater extent because of the kinds of techniques and the kinds of approaches I pursued when I was a research economist.
I hope we’re bringing more of that kind of analytic energy to bear on questions like health and education because of the work I did in the development field at the World Bank.
I hope that history will judge that the policies that I supported President [Bill] Clinton in pursuing will be judged to have promoted a prosperity that made lives better for millions of people in this country and tens of millions abroad by being wisely crafted, and crafted in line with economic realities, being reasoned-based.
And I hope that the initiatives that I started at Harvard will be carried through in ways that will cause the university to be seen not just as a great iconic institution for itself, but as a much larger institution promoting the social good, whether it’s through its financial aid, equal opportunity policies; whether it’s through the contributions it makes to science; whether it’s through a much greater engagement with the rest of the world.
So I hope that I will be seen as someone who raised science to what was possible in all the things that he did; and that by raising the sights, he caused more to happen than otherwise would have taken place. Oh I don’t know. That’s for others to judge. But I guess I am somebody who believes that the more important something is – perhaps even the more sensitive it is – the more important it is to think carefully about it. And that part of thinking carefully about it is thinking about every possible perspective on it and being willing to explore every possible perspective on it. That’s something that I always try to do. I’ve never been comfortable making a decision unless I felt that I understood the downsides of my decision as clearly as anyone I could have access to understood the downsides of the decision. Because only then did I feel I had really weighed the costs.
I always think it’s hugely important to try to understand – you may completely reject it – but to understand what the other perspective is in any situation. So I will always be asking people, “What’s the best argument for the opposite position?” Or how do people see it from the other perspective.
I was talking to somebody the other day who was very upset about a grade she had gotten and wanting to protest it, change it and so forth. And I said to her, “It sounds like an injustice took place here. But if you want to be effective here, you’ll be able to tell me how the world looks from the point of view from the person who gave you that grade. And maybe the person who gave you that grade will say, ‘Gosh, I was an unreasonable, bigoted, unthinking person, and you showed me that I’m wrong. And so I’ll change the grade.’” But probably a more plausible path is that the person will see that there’s a broader perspective to take, and will understand why, by taking a broader perspective, they can produce a more constructive outcome.
So that’s always the kind of way which I have thought about problems, and it’s, I think, the kind of thing that frankly is central for universities to try to encourage. That, too, is for others to judge.
I think I’m probably too impatient. I’m probably impatient with people who don’t seem to be following lines of argument. I’m impatient with people who engage through platitudes. I’m impatient with people who are committed – sometimes probably for good reason, sometimes not – to status quo or preservation of their prerogative.
And I think the vice in a virtue I like to have, is always having the greatest ambition for what I can accomplish, or the institution I’m part of can accomplish. The vice associated with that virtue is impatience that sometimes can lead things not to speed up, but to slow down, and sometimes can lead to more friction than I’d like.
Recorded On: June 13, 2007
Ambition and impatience, Larry Summers says, go hand in hand.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.
- A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication.
- Analyzing the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated over eight years, the team developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch.
- The words people stretch are not arbitrary but rather have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out.