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Last week members of the Eton community and economics fans were online to welcome Lawrence H. Summers, world-renowned economist, President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and former Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council. He is currently President Emeritus at Harvard University, and a professor of economics.

Professor Summers faced a touch first question, ‘what was the most challenging economic problem you’ve been involved in?’. Whilst he remembered the financial crises of the 1990s especially, including Mexico, Argentina, and the Asia financial crisis of 1998, it was a more recent phenomenon that he ultimately chose. His most challenging one task was the financial crisis of 2008, not only because the crisis caused a global economic shock when bank closures precipitated a market collapse, but also because it was the first time he had to tackle a problem of this scale involving his home nation.

Members of the virtual audience also wanted to know about inflation and why it poses such an economic risk, having risen to 5.4% in September in America. Professor Summers explained that the US government has been taking ‘serious risks’, agreeing that although the economy has recovered substantially after taking a hit from COVID-19, it still faces the challenges of  rising wages and supply shortages. Inflation, therefore, is a problem that should not be overlooked. Indeed, Professor Summers thought that inflation might pose an even bigger problem than the sustainability of US debt because ‘the debt service on government GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is very low so the US is likely to carry this debt without great difficulty’.

Economics is a fantastic career as it combines the ability to think analytically and scientifically

Professor Lawrence H. Summers

At the end of the informal interview, Professor Summers was asked what advice he would give to any pupil looking for a career involving economics and his answer was inspiring. He said ‘economics is a fantastic career as it combines the ability to think analytically and scientifically so I would recommend it’, adding that politics and history go hand in hand with economics, thereby confirming the A-Level choices of many of the Year 12 and 13 pupils on the Zoom webinar!

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