Lawrence H. Summers Guest Lectures on What’s Ahead for the Global Economy

November 14, 2016

The morning after enthusiastic Halloween celebrations, the students of the Global Economics class attended a lecture by Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Secretary to the Treasury (1999-2001). Over the course of two and a half hours, Mr. Summers delivered a speech that hopped across geography, policy area and time. He started by drawing on his experience during the financial crisis as Director of the White House United States National Economic Council, highlighting possible policy responses to markets in comparison to Chinese stock market disturbances over the last 18 months.

As part of this overview, Mr. Summers drafted the class into a game in which unanimous action by the group would result in reward, but any defections would punish those had failed to defect. The game simulated the conditions under which people forgo potential returns on deposits and withdraw their money from a bank if they suspect others will do the same – resulting in a bank run. He was, however, somewhat dismayed to discover that the cohort’s mutual trust was sufficiently high to somewhat mar the intended function of exercise.

The second half of Mr. Summers’ lecture was a broader discussion of Chinese-American economic relations and a highly interactive question and answer session. We covered topics like the need for infrastructure investment in the US, the One Belt One Road Initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the future of financial regulation, and the American presidential election. It speaks to the nature of both Summers and the program that despite the wide range of topics covered, the conversation balanced depth and range.

Mr. Summers, like many of our visiting guests, demonstrated admirable stamina. The scholars were fortunate enough not only to have him teach one of their classes, but also hear him speak as part of the J.P. Morgan Distinguished Speaker Series in World Economic Affairs, and, in some cases, dine with Summers and several other prominent economists in China. Blaise Buma, a Schwarzman Scholar from Cameroon, who attended the dinner, noted that Mr. Summers is “one of those high priests of economics that you hear about in the media but never think of getting to meet in person. It was exhilarating to speak with him at the dinner table”.

One evening, the class and visitors attended a conversation between Mr. Summers and Nicolas Aguzin, Chairman and CEO for J.P. Morgan, Asia Pacific. Despite the large crowd, the speakers were willing to speak candidly on a wide variety of topics, despite four hours of performance. Each opinion was novel, interesting and pithily delivered.

Schwarzman College is virtually inundated with intelligent and prominent people – one never ceases to be impressed with who will walk in the door.