Sep 24, 2017

The Larry Summers production function

Another scholarly production function prompted by Tyler:

Cowen: You were successful at quite a young age, but what I find striking after reviewing a lot of what you’ve done and a lot of talks you’ve given, is I find at your current age, 62, that when you answer questions on YouTube, in general your answers are in some way better or richer than they would have been 5, 10 years ago, and they were already, obviously, quite good to have gotten you to where you are.

For people who are already famous, and to some extent well off, at the age margin of whatever to 62, for their answers still to be getting better, this is what I find striking. You don’t have to be modest here, but what is there in the Larry Summers production function that explains this?

Summers: Part of the answer goes back to the first question that you asked. I’ve always tried to surround myself and be around extraordinarily able young people. They probably do learn some things from me, but I learn a lot from them, both from things they say and know that I don’t, and from the questions they ask, which keep me on my toes. That’s one answer.

Another answer — by the way, I’m flattered that you think it’s true. I don’t know if it’s true or not. One thing I’ve always tried to define myself by — and sometimes it’s been more successful than other times — is opposition to complacency and not being satisfied with any institution, with myself, or with anybody, and always thinking things could be better.

That’s the attitude I have to myself, as well. I’ll be on a plane back tonight, and I’ll be thinking about the various questions you asked and which questions I could have given better answers to. Then I’ll think about those answers, and the next time I’m somewhere, I’ll give better answers or be better at discussing things because I wasn’t complacent or satisfied.

Those would probably be the answers I’d give.

[rereads: 1, edits: 0]