Forum Discusses How America Works

IOP Forum
Christophe A.T. Van

Nina Easton moderates a discussion on "Is America Working? What Businesses and Governments can do" with Paula Dobriansky, Ben Heineman, Roger Porter and Lawrence H. Summers

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, four panelists came together in the JFK Jr. Forum on Monday to discuss the role of business and government in making America work.

Moderated by Fortune magazine senior editor and a former IOP fellow Nina J. Easton, the panel discussed a wide range of economic issues facing the U.S. from the state of its political institutions to global competitiveness.

Roger B. Porter, IBM professor of business and government at the Kennedy School, noted that U.S. government spending has increasingly been dominated by mandatory or entitlement spending.

“We have lost the flexibility to spend in ways that is going to benefit us and the future generations,” Porter said.

Lawrence H. Summers, a former University president and now a professor in the economics department, agreed and added that the assumption that future generations are going to be better off has been challenged.

“It is in doubt because the overall trend of economic growth appears to have slowed,” Summers said. “The level of inequality and the level of social immobility has deteriorated.”

On another note, Benjamin W. Heineman Jr. ’65, senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, discussed the role of business in the U.S. landscape. According to Heineman, with the shifting focus onto shareholders and the decline of manufacturing, the U.S. has reached an all-time low on trust in corporations.

The shifting economic balance has also affected foreign relations.

“The whole question of economics has really come to the terms of the overall assessment of our power base,” said Paula J. Dobriansky, senior fellow at the Belfer Center and undersecretary for democracy and global affairs in the Bush administration.

“I think one of the good news stories is that the U.S. government...has developed public-private partnership,” Dobriansky said.

The assertion, however, aroused disagreement from other panelists, citing the fear of “crony capitalism.”

“To recognize that I am going to do more than anyone else has asked me to. It’s that kind of leadership...that we need to see in business and government,” Porter said.

The panel ended with a discussion of the state of the U.S. democracy.

“Serious concerns have always been there,” Summers said. “But I assure you, we will surmount in critical ways for long time to come.”