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Former Treasury Secretary Summers weighs in on Korea, DACA and Fed vacancies

September 8, 2017   /   by Buzz McClain

Larry Summers

Lawrence H. Summers, former Treasury Secretary, President Emeritus of Harvard University, and one of America’s leading economists, spoke with Tyler Cowen as part of the Mercatus Center’s Conversations with Tyler series. Photo by Ron Aira.

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers thinks higher education needs to increase its rate of innovation.

“Academia is not using innovation to adapt fast enough,” Summers said, noting that other industries have dramatically changed how they operated compared with decades past, while higher education “looks pretty much the same. The pace of innovation in higher education is painfully slow.”

Artificial intelligence and distance learning are the future, he suggested, adding that universities should invest in those technologies now rather than later.

Summers was one of Tyler Cowen’s professors at Harvard and spoke with Cowen at this semester’s kick-off edition of “Conversations with Tyler” Wednesday in Washington, D.C.


The former director of the National Economic Council under President Obama also warned about the current administration’s playbook with South Korea.

“I cannot imagine a crazier scenario than what’s going on in the Korean Peninsula,” Summers said in answer to a question about the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle the free trade agreement with South Korea. With North Korea testing hydrogen bombs, “for us to say to South Korea, ‘We don’t have your back,’ is a grave error.”

As for the Federal Reserve Board, he was adamant that the vacant seats on the board be filled by “serious people, with real expertise who will set realistic policy.” They should not be appointed, he said, “because of a political orientation.”

Regarding the issue of altering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, Summers pointed out the negative impacts possible in employment, industry and the economy.

“It’s a no-brainer to find ways to enable them to stay,” he said.

At one point Cowen ask what advice Summers would give to a philanthropist with $100 million to invest. “Look for a couple of targeted interventions” rather than spreading the funds across too many sectors, he said. He recommended an investment in elementary-to-middle school education that is sustainable and reproducible as “the most effective thing you can do.”

Summers’ appearance was the first in the ongoing “Conversations with Tyler” series of events in the academic year. Cowen, an economist and the general director of the Mercatus Center think tank at George Mason University, presents staged freewheeling chats throughout the year. Previous guests have included Senator Ben Sasse, Peter Thiel, Nate Silver, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Camille Paglia and Malcolm Gladwell. Recordings of the talks are available on the Mercatus events page.