Born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Robert Summers and the nephew of economist Paul Samuelson. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergraduate student (Bachelor's in economics, 1975), and Harvard University as a graduate student (PhD, 1982). He has had stints teaching at both universities. He became the youngest tenured professor in Harvard's history in 1983.
In 2002 he drew attention by claiming that the Noam Chomsky-led campaign to have universities divest from companies with Israeli holdings is "anti-Semitic in effect, if not in intention".
In December, 1991, he wrote a memo arguing that "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that". This memo, which he has since attempted to downplay, made him known in the anti-globalization movement as a symbol of "the arrogant ignorance of many conventional 'economists' concerning the nature of the world we live in" (then-Brazilian Secretary of the Environment Jose Lutzenburger). [CP]