Pittsfield, MA – Dr. Lawrence Summers, President Emeritus at Harvard University, and former Secretary of the Treasury, presented a lecture on the economy at Williams College on Thursday evening. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Reporter Lucas Willard attended the event and had the opportunity to ask Dr. Summers some questions.
Before Dr. Summers took to the podium, I met with him backstage, where he first outlined what he'd be discussing that evening.
Larry Summers made it clear in his presentation that although the economy is recovering slowly, the rate of that growth needs to improve. He mentioned that there is no silver bullet to tackle the economy, but did suggest some changes that can be done now. One of his major talking points in his speech was the need to create more consumer demand, in a time where companies and consumers are saving more and paying down debt.
Summers also noted improvements in infrastructure will lead to demand, especially investing and improving public education. Summers remarked that students should not be attending schools with "paint peeling off the walls."
In his remarks on infrastructure, Summers also said although controversial, he approves of the President's Health Care Reform. Summers has served under Reagan on staff as an economic advisor, served as Secretary of Treasury under Bill Clinton. Before his return to Harvard University in as the Charles W. Eliot University Professor in late 2010, he served under Barack Obama as the Director of Economic Council. In that post, Summers helped tackle both the $787 billion dollar stimulus in 2009, and the Dodd-Frank Financial Regulatory Reform Bill. I had the chance to ask him what he thought of the two programs in 2012.
Summers remarked that in order to create more demand, it would have been desirable to pass more stimulus, but in political context of 2009, it would have been nearly impossible.
In his remarks on stage, Summers also discussed China, and the globalized economy, and warned that when looking at history, rapid change comes with the possibility of conflict. In regards to distribution of wealth and the tax system, Summers suggested that progressive taxation methods could be further explored.
Summers took questions on all aspects of the economy, and also a question if his portrayal in the film Social Network was accurate - a question he said he is asked frequently.