Lawrence Henry Summers, America’s leading economist, was born on November 30, 1954, in New Haven, Connecticut. He comes from a Jewish family, his parents Robert Summers and Anita Summers were both Economics professors at the University of Pennsylvania. His childhood was spent in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, where he was enrolled in Harriton High School. After finishing school, Summers attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), graduating with a degree in economics. Throughout his college years, Summers enthusiastically took part in debates as a member of the MIT debating team and even went on to take part in the annual National Debate Tournament three times. In 1982, he attended Harvard University as a graduate student and earned a doctorate in economics.
After completing his education, he briefly served on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Lawrence Summers started his career as an educationist in 1983, becoming the youngest tenured professors in Harvard’s history at the age 28. He also served as a visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics in 1987. In 1991, Summers landed another job in Washington, D.C., serving as the chief economist at the World Bank. The same year, Summers penned a private memo that put forward the suggestion of sending toxic waste in order to recycle it for future use to developing countries which he described as being “under-polluted”. The memo enraged several people and there were calls for his resignation. However, Summers held his post at the World Bank till 1993, only to be appointed as the Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. In 1993 he was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal for being an exceptional American economist under age 40. In 1995, Summers was responsible for voicing the U.S. response to the collapse of the Mexican peso and later at the advent of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, he made major contributions to the international economic recovery efforts. His efforts were rewarded in 1999 as he was promoted to the top spot in the Treasury Department and he served as the principal economic adviser to President Bill Clinton.
In 2001, Lawrence Summers held the post of Harvard’s 27th president. His reforms in Harvard drew much criticism, particularly when he reprimanded Cornel West, one of the most prestigious professors for his absenteeism and his political and self-promotional activities. His societal reforms to reduce tuition fee for students from low income backgrounds, tightening of the grading policies and pressing senior professors to teach undergraduate students also attracted much controversy. In 2005, Summers made a remark that suggested that women are biologically incapable to study hard sciences such as engineering and science which led to widespread disapproval. Despite his apologizing, the discontentment with his remark led to his resignation in 2006.
The year 2008 saw Summers returning to Washington DC. again, as President Obama offered him the post of director of the National Economics Council (NEC), a post which he held from 2009-2012 and emerged as one of Obama’s principal economic advisors. He made countless efforts to recover the economy from the 2008 financial crisis, however, his policies and his connections to Wall Street drew much criticism and in 2010, Summers made the decision to quit the NEC at the end of the year and return to Harvard.
Currently, Lawrence Summers serves as the President Emeritus and the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University. He is also an advisor to various businesses and investors, a member on the board of two cutting edge financial services start-ups—Square and Lending Club. Summers is also applauded for his philanthropic services, he is a member of board of Citizen Schools, the Centre for Global Development and Teach for America. He has authored several books and more than 150 papers in financial as well as academic journals.