At a Glance
- Career History:
National Economic Council
head (January 2009-December 2010); Part-time managing director, D.E. Shaw & Co. (since 2007); President, Harvard University (2001 to 2006); U.S.
Secretary (1999 to 2001)
- Birthday: Nov. 30, 1954
- Hometown: New Haven, Connecticut
- Alma Mater: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SB, 1975; Harvard University, PhD, 1982
- Spouse: Elisa New
- Web site
Path to Power
Summers may have been genetically programmed to become an economist. Both his parents were professors of economics at Ivy League schools, and two of his uncles - Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow - won Nobel Prizes in economics. "I wasn't any good at math or physics," says Summers, "so I became an economist."
However, when Summers joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a 16 year-old undergrad, he couldn't pinpoint his career aspirations. He was leaning towards studying mathematics when his father ran into celebrated Harvard economist, and future chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan, Martin Feldstein. Feldstein agreed to take Summers on as an intern for the summer after his sophomore year. After graduating from M.I.T, Summers attended Harvard and studied under Feldstein to earn his Ph.D in economics. Feldstein sponsored his doctorate.
As head of the NEC, Summers was Obama's top White House economic adviser. He had an imprint on every area of economic policy.
During the presidential transition in 2008, Summers and Geithner led marathon discussions with other Obama economic advisers over how to restructure the financial rescue to demand more accountability from banks in how they use bailout money. The two plotted to try usinge government funds to reduce the number of home foreclosures. And they designed the outlines of an $800 billion stimulus package comprised of tax cuts and vast new spending in a range of areas.
Summers has spent many years in academia and government circles and has the connections to show for it. Many Obama administration officials came from Harvard, like Cass Sunstein and Elena Kagan.
His mentor in college was Martin Feldstein, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan. President Bill Clinton named Summers as an undersecretary at Treasury, and Secretary Robert Rubin became his mentor, pushing him as an eventual successor. Summers met Timothy Geithner when he was a young career staffer at Treasury, and promoted him into senior jobs; now, Geithner is Obama's Treasury secretary.
Summers has given $8,800 to campaigns since 2002, all of which went to Democrats. In July, Summers gave $2,500 to Obama and $2,300 to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).