Anita A. Summers, economist, dies at 98; She brought rigor to public policies | ET REALITY


Anita A. Summers, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who injected quantitative rigor into a wide range of public policy issues, including zoning, education and tax incentives, died Sunday at her home in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. . 98.

His son Lawrence H. Summers, an economist and former Treasury secretary, confirmed the death.

Although she spent much of her career in academia, Ms. Summers was far from a withdrawn intellectual. She insisted that public policymaking be strengthened with economic analysis, and vice versa: that the business and financial world could benefit from a greater understanding of policymaking.

In fact, that was his primary assignment at Wharton, where he moved in 1979 after spending nearly a decade at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. She was the founding chair of Wharton’s public policy and management department, the first of its kind at a business school. (Now called the department of business economics and public policy).

Both at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve and later at Wharton, Ms. Summers was a leading advocate for public planning at the regional level, pressing city and state governments to collaborate on economic issues that often crossed political boundaries.

During the 1980s and 1990s, he wrote or co-wrote a series of studies on the emerging postindustrial economy of southeastern Pennsylvania, work that influenced the way policymakers thought about economic change nationally.

He was unsentimental about disappearing industries and encouraged policymakers to focus their energies on new sectors. When the local shipbuilding facility, once a cornerstone of the regional economy, closed in the early 1990s, he told the Washington Post that “the question to ask is not why the Philadelphia shipyard is closing, but why did it take so long?

He had equal interest in zoning laws and how they affected economic growth, and in educational policy; She was among the early advocates of merit pay for teachers, based on students’ test scores. The unions howled, but she had plenty of data to make her case.

Economics ran in Mrs. Summers’ family. Her brother, Kenneth J. Arrow, won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1972, which her brother-in-law Paul A. Samuelson also won in 1970. Her husband, Robert, taught economics at Penn, and her son Lawrence, having been Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, he was later president of Harvard.

“Growing up, we probably spent more time discussing what the government should do about poverty than at most dinner tables in America,” Lawrence Summers said.

Anita Arrow was born on September 9, 1925 in Great Neck, New York, on Long Island, and raised in Manhattan. Her parents were Romanian Jewish immigrants: her father, Harry, was a banker and her mother, Lillian (Greenberg) Arrow, was a housewife.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Hunter College in 1945 and earned a master’s degree in the same subject from the University of Chicago in 1947.

He then spent several years in New York working as an economist for Standard Oil. She was one of the first women to hold such a position in a major corporation and it wasn’t easy.

After the hiring manager told her she had the job, she later recalled, she added that since she was a woman, “we decided we could get the same brains for less money.”

She was assigned high-priority projects to complete, but was prohibited from delivering them in the executive suites, where women were prohibited. Instead, he had to sit by his phone, waiting for the bosses to call with questions.

“I felt like my brain was being insulted” he said in a 2022 interview at Wharton.

She eventually left the job to pursue doctoral studies at Columbia University, but left the program to raise her three children. She spent 11 years out of the workforce, a choice she embraced and he long defended.

“I cannot imagine a deeper pleasure than the one I felt feeding, speaking and reading to our children, being present for every tear and every stage of development,” she wrote in The Boston Globe in 2017.

She married Robert Summers in 1953. He died in 2012. Along with his son Lawrence, he is survived by two other sons, Richard and John. He also had seven grandchildren, six of whom survive him.

Once her children were in school and her husband moved to the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Summers accepted a position teaching economics at Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia. She also took an active role in local politics and policymaking, eventually becoming president of her local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

In 1971 he moved to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, where he directed its Urban Economics Group. She also served as chair of the board of directors of Mathematica, a public policy consulting firm.

Ms. Summers was proud to be a woman who made her way in a male-dominated field, a path that subsequent generations of women were able to follow, including Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, whose first job I was at Mrs. Summers’ apartment in Wharton.

“It meant a lot that it was a department founded by Anita Summers,” Dr. Stevenson said in a telephone interview. “Being a mother, being a wife, is a reminder of how things have changed and the amount of courage and talent it took for female economists to be successful in that generation.”

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