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Who is Larry Summers?

Larry Summers is a renowned economist whose influence has shaped U.S. economic policy for decades. As former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President, his insights on fiscal matters carry significant weight. His controversial stances often spark debate, reflecting his pivotal role in global finance. Curious about his impact on your economic future? Let's delve deeper into his storied career.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Larry Summers is an American economist who also served as President of Harvard University’s School of Government. He was the Secretary of the Treasury during the second Clinton Administration, and has been tapped by Barack Obama to be the head of the National Economic Council. Although widely respected as an economist, Larry Summers has come under fire for various comments he has made during his career.

Coming from a distinguished family of economists, both of Summers' parents taught economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and both his father and mother had brothers who won Nobel prizes in economics. From an early age Larry Summers excelled in academics, and showed an unsurprising interest in economics. At sixteen he enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), originally pursuing physics before switching to economics and graduating with his BS in 1975. He went on to earn a PhD from Harvard University in 1982, and in 1983 he became a tenured professor at Harvard at the age of 28, one of the youngest in the University’s history.

Larry Summers studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by age 16.
Larry Summers studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by age 16.

For much of his career, Summers has been involved in the political side of economics. During the Reagan Administration he staffed the Council of Economic Advisors, and in 1988, he joined the Dukakis campaign as a leading economic advisor. In 1991, Larry Summers joined the World Bank as Chief Economist, helping to shape development policy throughout the world. Later that year, he signed off on what would become one of the most infamous letters in economics, the so-called Larry Summers Memo.

Larry Summer has served as president of Harvard University.
Larry Summer has served as president of Harvard University.

In 1993, Larry Summers left the World Bank to join the Clinton Administration as Undersecretary for International Affairs, moving to the Department of the Treasury soon after, and in 1995 becoming Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. When Robert Rubin, one of his main mentors, stepped down, Larry Summers took over as Secretary of the Treasury, a position he filled until the end of the Clinton Administration.

Larry Summers worked in the Department of the Treasury and eventually became Deputy Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.
Larry Summers worked in the Department of the Treasury and eventually became Deputy Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.

Two of the things for which Larry Summers is most famous are controversies. The first is the Larry Summers Memo, a memo penned by a staff economist at the World Bank at the time, Lant Pritchett. In it, the argument is laid out that free trade would likely not help the environments of developing nations; an aside to the memo actually made an economic argument for dumping toxic waste in countries with the lowest possible wages. The Larry Summers Memo generated a firestorm of controversy, particularly in the developing nations most impacted by the logic of the memo.

The other major controversy of Larry Summers’ career occurred during his tenure as President of Harvard University. In 2005, during a Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce, Summers laid out what he saw as the three main hypotheses for why more men than women joined higher-level engineering and general science disciplines. From what he saw as most to least important, he listed these as: men were more willing to commit the time to high-level careers, men and women were intrinsically different in their levels of aptitude for the skills required by these careers, and discrimination. He came under intense criticism for this view and perceived sexism, and although he survived the ensuing controversy, he ultimately stepped down in 2006.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Larry Summers and what is he known for?

Larry Summers is a prominent American economist who has served in various high-profile positions, including Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton and Director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama. He is known for his work on economic policy, his tenure as President of Harvard University, and his influential research in areas such as labor economics, financial markets, and macroeconomic theory. Summers has been a key figure in shaping economic discourse and policy in the United States over several decades.

What are some of Larry Summers' most significant contributions to economic policy?

Larry Summers has made significant contributions to economic policy, particularly during his time as Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001. He played a crucial role in managing financial crises in Mexico, Asia, and Russia in the late 1990s. Additionally, he was involved in the deregulation of the U.S. financial system, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which has been a subject of much debate. His advocacy for fiscal discipline and social security reform has also been influential.

What is Larry Summers' academic background and scholarly work?

Larry Summers earned his bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his Ph.D. from Harvard University, both in economics. As a scholar, he has made substantial contributions to various fields within economics, including public finance, labor economics, and international economics. His research has been widely published and cited, and he has taught at some of the world's leading universities, including Harvard and MIT. Summers has also been awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, which recognizes outstanding economists under the age of 40.

How did Larry Summers' tenure as President of Harvard University impact the institution?

Larry Summers served as President of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006. His tenure was marked by efforts to reform undergraduate education, expand the university's scientific and engineering initiatives, and increase financial aid. However, it was also controversial due to his outspoken leadership style and comments about women in science, which contributed to his resignation. Despite the controversies, Summers' presidency left a lasting impact on Harvard's policies and direction.

What are Larry Summers' views on current economic issues?

Larry Summers remains an active commentator on current economic issues, often sharing his insights through op-eds, interviews, and speaking engagements. He has expressed concerns about the risks of long-term low interest rates, the potential for secular stagnation, and the challenges of managing inflation and economic growth in a post-pandemic world. Summers advocates for evidence-based policy-making and often emphasizes the importance of fiscal responsibility and structural reforms to ensure economic stability and growth.

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    • Larry Summers studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by age 16.
      By: ASP Inc
      Larry Summers studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by age 16.
    • Larry Summer has served as president of Harvard University.
      By: Bastos
      Larry Summer has served as president of Harvard University.
    • Larry Summers worked in the Department of the Treasury and eventually became Deputy Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.
      By: rrodrickbeiler
      Larry Summers worked in the Department of the Treasury and eventually became Deputy Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.