What are the challenges confronting the U.S.?

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

Power depends on legitimacy, and legitimacy depends on a perception of competence, says Larry Summers.

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