Lawrence H. Summers, one of the most influential and outspoken economists in the world today, spoke at Western Law on Nov. 22 as the Fourth Annual Beattie Family Business and Law Speaker.
Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University, addressed a broad range of current issues with his characteristic directness, insight and wit. Prominent financial journalist Chrystia Freeland, editor of Thomson Reuters Digital, moderated the session before a standing-room-only crowd.
Summers was a former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1999-2001, during President Clinton’s Administration and, more recently, Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama’s Administration from 2009 until earlier this year. He provided an engaging and illuminating illustration of how the leadership styles of these two presidents differed, drawing from his observations lessons about the importance for leaders to remain true to themselves and to play to their own unique strengths and personal characteristics.
Summers played a key role in the development of policy decisions responding to the recent financial and economic crisis. Frankly acknowledging that “no one” could be happy about the current state of the American economy, he nevertheless noted that as disappointing as those economic indicators are, there are compelling reasons to believe that given the international financial crisis with which the administration was confronted, the U.S. economy might well have plummeted into far more dire circumstances in the absence of the measures that were taken.
He also reflected on a number of significant ideas about the future — both positive and worrisome. He noted the promise offered by the expanding use of complex empirical data to improve decision-making, the impact of technology and globalization, the unique role played by institutions of higher education, and the importance for people in Western nations to avoid insularity and acquire knowledge — deep knowledge — about other nations and cultures. He also expressed concern about the growing problem of income inequality, some of the possible persistent sources of such inequality, and the very serious issues inequality raises for the United States and other democratic nations.
Geoff Beattie, LLB ’84, Thomson Reuters deputy chairman, CEO of The Woodbridge Company Limited and Western’s fundraising campaign chair, generously established the Beattie Family Lecture Series in Business Law in 2008. Past speakers in this series include economist Robert Shiller, Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof and Leo E. Strine Jr., Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery.