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VIP Corner: Lawrence Summers on how the present affects our future

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SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Lawrence Summers, director for the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy.

Once upon a time, slavery seemed “absolutely natural,” said Lawrence Summers, a Harvard University professor and director for the National Economic Council, while recalling a dinner conversation he once had with his daughter and a friend. Just as aspects of life from 150 years ago horrify us now, could there be ways we live today that could weigh on the consciences of future generations?

“It would be very surprising if there are not important aspects of how we live today that will shock the consciences of those who look back on us, just as our consciences are shocked by those who came before,” he said.

While Summers admittedly does not know the answer himself, he surmises the aspects could range from the way society treats the poor, the young, the old, or even “the way superstition continues to shape our approaches to important human problems.”

But how will our collective consciences shift? Much in the same way that many social problems of the past have been rectified: through public outcry and public discourse.

“It will be individuals, it will be protests, it will be ideas, it will be philosophies, it will be better thinking than the thinking that came before,” Summers said.

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