Lawrence H. Summers

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Lawrence H. Summers
Location Washington, D.C.

Lawrence H. Summers is the former head of the White House National Economic Council for President Barack Obama and former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

He was sworn in as the 71st Secretary of the Treasury in July 1999, under President Bill Clinton, succeeding his boss, Robert E. Rubin, after serving as undersecretary for international affairs and deputy secretary of the Treasury.[1] In 2010 he left Obama's economic team and returned to academic work at Harvard University,[2] where he is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus.[3]


Summers served as undersecretary for international affairs and deputy secretary of the Treasury until 2001. During Summers’s tenure as secretary of the Treasury, the United States used budget surpluses to repurchase Treasury debt for the first time since the 1920's, and extended the life of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Summers led efforts to modernize the financial system, extend financial privacy protections, provide for digital signatures, and insure the viability of the over-the-counter derivatives market. Summers also championed reforms to address corporate tax shelters and predatory lending practices. He played a key role in designing the United States support program in the wake of Mexico's 1995 financial crisis and in crafting the international response to the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

From 1991 to 1993 he served as chief economist of the World Bank, where he played a role in designing strategies to assist developing countries. Summers raised eyebrows and attracted media attention when he sent an internal memo to colleagues at the Bank and appeared to argue for shipping pollution to the Third World. In Summers' analysis, the cost of a person's premature death was measured by the loss of potential earned income. So if living next to a dioxin-emitting plant takes five years off the average life expectancy of a relatively well-paid American, that is far more significant an event than if a similar plant causes the same damage to, for example, the average African. "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [less developed countries]?" Summers reportedly wrote. "The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to it."[4]

Before coming to Washington, Summers had an academic career as president of Harvard University for five years, from 2001 to 2006.[5] He resigned as president after Harvard faculty gave me a vote of no confidence, partly because of his highly public conflict with Professor Cornel West,[6] and questions about financial conflicts of interest, as well as a controversial remark he made in a 2005 speech in which he said that the under-representation of women in science and engineering might stem in part from innate differences between men and women.[7]

In 1983, at age 28, Summers became one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard's history.[8] He's had stints teaching at both MIT and Harvard.

He is the son of two economists. His father was the late Robert Summers and his mother is Anita Summers, an American educator. He was also the nephew of two Nobel laureates in economics.[9]


Summers received a B.S. degree in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1975. He attended Harvard University as a graduate student and received a Ph.D in Philosophy in 1982.