Economist Anita A. Summers dies at 98; Strictness was brought in public policy

Economist Anita A.  Summers dies at 98;  Strictness was brought in public policy

Anita A., an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Summers, who introduced quantitative rigor to a variety of public policy topics, including zoning, education and tax incentives, died Sunday at his home in Gladwin, PA. 98.

His son, economist and former Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence H. Summers, confirmed the death.

Although she spent most of her career in academia, Mrs. Summers was far from a hidden intellectual. He stressed that public policy making should be strengthened with economic analysis, and vice versa: the business and finance worlds could benefit from a greater understanding of policy making.

In fact, it was her primary assignment at Wharton, where she transferred in 1979 after spending nearly a decade at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. She was the founding chair of Wharton’s Department of Public Policy and Management, the first department of its kind in a business school. (Now called the Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.)

At both the Philadelphia Fed and later Wharton, Mrs. Summers was a leading advocate of public planning at the regional level, pushing city and state governments to cooperate on economic issues that often crossed political boundaries.

During the 1980s and 90s he authored or co-authored a series of studies on the emerging post-industrial economy of Southeastern Pennsylvania that influenced the way policymakers thought about economic transformation at the national level.

She was not critical of disappearing industries and encouraged policy makers 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 whether That’s why it took so long.”

He had a similar interest in zoning laws and how they affected economic development, and education policy; She was one of the early proponents of merit pay for teachers based on student test scores. Unions balked, but they had extensive data to make their case.

Economics ran in Mrs. Summers’s family. His brother, Kenneth J. Arrow won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1972, which was shared by his brother-in-law, Paul A. Samuelsson also won in 1970. Her husband, Robert, taught economics at Penn, and their son, Lawrence, later became president of Harvard, after serving as Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

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

Anita Arrow was born on September 9, 1925 in Great Neck, NY, on Long Island, and was raised in Manhattan. Both of his parents were Romanian Jewish immigrants – his father, Harry, was a banker, and his mother, Lillian (Greenberg) Arrow, was a housewife.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Hunter College in 1945 and 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 was not easy.

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

They were assigned high-priority projects to complete, but were prevented from delivering them to executive suites, where women were barred. Instead he had to sit by his phone and wait for his boss to call with questions.

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

She eventually left her job to pursue a doctorate at Columbia University, but left the program to raise her three children. He spent 11 years out of the workforce – a choice he accepted, and which he long defended.

“I can’t imagine greater happiness than feeding my children, talking to them and reading to them, being there 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 transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, Mrs. Summers took a position teaching economics at Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia. She also took an active role in local politics and policy making and eventually became president of her local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

In 1971 she moved to the Philadelphia Fed, where she led its urban economics group. She also served as chair of the board of Mathematica, a public-policy consulting firm.

Mrs. Summers was proud to be a woman blazing a trail through a male-dominated field, a path that future generations of women were able to follow – among them Betsy Stevenson, professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. Her first job at Wharton was in Mrs. Summers’s department.

“It means a lot that this was a department founded by Anita Summers,” Dr. Stevenson said in a phone interview. “Being a parent, being a spouse, it’s a reminder of how things have changed and how much grit and talent it required for female economists to succeed in that generation.”

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