Six of the world's leading economists and businessmen discussed yesterday remedies for the fading competitive edge of the U.S. in the world economy at a symposium moderated by Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence.
Spence opened the panel discussion saying that although a distinguished alumnus once told him not to talk about the economy because, "you just make people angry and nobody feels very good," it is important to examine the issue of regaining economic strength from all sides.
"It is a very confusing set of issues, and only the foolish, I think at this time, pretend to have all the answers," Spence said at the symposium for alumni returning for their reunions. "I think it's going to take us a long time to figure what kind of world we live in and where we stand."
The panelists, several of whom are at Harvard for their 25th reunion, offered a variety of solutions, including taking a new approach to corporate-government relations, helping business more, trying harder to understand other cultures, eliminating protectionist, and finding better leadership.
Professor of Business Administration Malcolm S. Salter '62, who recently completed a study of the automobile industry, said America must accept the new premise that management, labor and government work together.
Edward B. Rasmuson '62, chairman of the National Bank of Alaska, criticized liberals and environmentalists for attempting to limit the oil industry in his native state of Alaska.
"We got ourselves into this pickle because welulled ourselves into a false sense of security,"Rasmuson said. "I think the problem we are facingtoday is that we don't have a national policy ofhelping business. We shackle our business people."
Rasmuson also said Americans must accept alower standard of living than they currently enjoyand expect.
International financier Robin Tavistock '62also criticized Americans. The British native saidAmericans often fail in foreign markets becausethey assume international businessman understandtheir culture and language.
"If you go in speaking English and nothingelse, you will very politely be shown to thedoor." Tavistock said, adding that nine out of 10European businessmen speak English and appreciatethe effort of others to learn their language.
Americans tend to ignore other culturaldifferences, he added. "You ask us to meetings atbreakfast. We really loathe meetings at breakfast,"he said. "And yet you persist."
Tavistock said that some of America'sdifficulties in the international economy may comefrom a lack of understanding of foreign people'sethics. "Cheating taxes in Europe is a way oflife," he said. "You also take a terribly moralview that bribery is a dirty word. We love it."
Georges de Menil '62, professor of economics atthe Institute for Advanced Study and SocialScience in Paris, blamed today's troubles on fiveyears with an overvalued dollar. He said the U.S.needs a sensible budgetary policy with free trade.
Professor of Economics Jeffrey D. Sachs alsowarned of the dangers of protectionism. "We arethreatening to jeopardize deeply important foreignpolicy goals in East Asia," he said, adding thatthe U.S. must give economic aid to nations in thatregion of the globe, especially the Philippines."World leadership doesn't come free. We have tomake some sacrifices for it," Sachs said.
Frederick H.S. Allen '62, vice president forpublic relations for Morgan Guaranty Trust, saidas it is difficult to remain optimistic about theU.S. economy, Americans need to change theirexpectations.
"What I see here are some pretty dangerousinadequacies of leadership," Allen said. "Weclearly need a better vision."
Spence concluded the symposium by comparing theeconomy to higher education, saying that whatkeeps Harvard great is its ability to handlecompetition from other exceptional universities.He said that the United States should take itsexample from Harvard.