Not on stage at Radio City Music Hall during the two days of the World Business Forum but omnipresent, was the economy, and with an upcoming election, President Obama took a few jabs from Jack Welch and political advisor David Gergen. The former CEO of GE, who openly endorsed John McCain at the 2008 World Business Forum, criticized the President as being anti-business and improperly handling the auto bailout by "cutting the throats of investors." Gergen accused the White House as suffering from groupthink and alienating the business community, which, he said, is hurting the recovery. "He needs to bring some CEOs in. They are sitting on cash."
Obama might also want to invite Al Gore in for another look at his awesome PowerPoint, too. The former Vice President -- or as he said, "he used to be the next President of the United States" -- again expertly connected the dots between the climate crisis, sustainable capitalism and opportunity for global environmental and economic improvement.
While he avoided reopening the debate on reasons for invading Iraq, Gore began by affirming the global economy's dependence on an oil market dominated by the Persian Gulf, and "the thought of it being disrupted or under control of those who could use it as a geopolitical weapon is something not easily dismissed."
Abandoning the polluting 100-year-old technologies of the past to prepare for a sustainable 21st century could break our dependence, put people to work and save the economy, asserts the former Vice President, but we collectively suffer from inertia, which works as the enemy of change. It's partially because we can't wrap our heads around something that's unprecedented.
"We have a tendency to think if it didn't happen in the past, it's not likely to happen in the future. We never had to think about the relationship between us and the environment."
Gore cites three major contributors to the climate crisis: the global population explosion, which taxes resources; the dramatic expansion of the power-draining technologies we use; and finally, the way we think about capitalism.
"Capitalism is the most efficient form of organizing economic activity the world has ever seen. It unlocks the human potential. It has a set of organic and ubiquitous incentives. It's great that capitalism is our system," asserted the Nobel Prize winner, however, he argued, it is long past time to address the structural problems that distorted the way we operate. It's the short-term thinking that recently brought down the financial system and how that same lack of vision prevents long-range environmental solution planning.
We're entering a period of consequences, he said, leading to eventual collapse.
Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, asked Gore why there was so much polarization around global warming in the U.S.
"There is a disinformation campaign going on. Large carbon polluters spend money to create false doubts on things that are real. The ship is bearing down, but large carbon polluters are in the boat saying it's not real."
Gore urged World Business Forum delegates to affect change through political action, and press the Senate to release their stranglehold on policies through filibusters, which, he said, are influenced by special interest groups. "It's important to change light bulbs, but it's more important to change the laws."
Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz advocated for political action of another kind -- more stimulus money, as the initial package was too small and not well-designed, he said.
"If it hadn't been for the stimulus, the unemployment would have peaked. Millions of Americans who had jobs otherwise would not. It's clear, that with the end of the stimulus the economy is getting weaker. Something has to be done."
Unfortunately, the optimal time may have passed, as Obama had opportunity after the election. Today he is more politically constrained. "When you hear we can't afford another stimulus, it's not true. We can't afford not to."
Stiglitz didn't rule out the dreaded "double dip," as there are too many potential influencers, but he did say with certainty there was not enough job creation. With 1-in-6 Americans out of work and a labor force growing at one percent per year, a large number of long-term unemployed is likely. "Getting back into the market is much more difficult. The new normal will be high unemployment."