Before reading this bit about a sobering set of messages offered at a very nice Financial Times reception, the must read assignment first is Martin Wolf’s “Japan’s Lessons for a World of Balance-Sheet Recession.”
Now you can proceed. . .
The Financial Times held a swanky, A-crowd party last night at Georgetown’s intimidatingly large, old but modernly redone Halcyon House.
Across the wall well above the stage was a projected image of script reading “we live in financial times. . .” The host for the evening was the uber-connected and politically ambidextrous Chrystia Freeland, US Managing Editor for the FT. And the featured draw for the night was General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who today just announced that he is waiving about $12 million in bonuses he could otherwise draw on.
His sober message last evening about the state of the economy and our challenges ahead — and the conversation that newsletter pamphleteer Chris Nelson, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and I had with Immelt after his talk — might have had some effect on his decision to make this symbolic, but costly, move — though given the press releases that were out early this a.m. on the waved bonus, we were probably all irrelevant.
Despite the dazzle of the affair and an oyster shucker who shucked an incredible number of oysters for those who couldn’t stay away from his table, Chrystia Freeland set a tone for the evening that was pretty no-nonsense. She told it as it was and that the United States in all its parts, businesses, workers, finance, and thus who work in the public policy sector have a huge struggle ahead given the lack of traction the Obama team has gotten so far with its early economy-salvaging moves.
Jeff Immelt went a step further than Freeland and said that in the 1990s, “anyone could have run GE and done well.” Someone call Jack Welch. He went even a step further and said “not only could anyone have run GE in the 1990s, his dog could have run a GE, a German Shepherd could have run GE. . .” But he said that today, this is a different game. Immelt emphasized that what lies ahead “will be really, really, really hard.”
Immelt told the crowd that he thought America had to direct its resources and energies to focus on big leaps in “clean energy, health care, and education” and that we had to reintroduce a commitment to manufacturing and technological innovation and investment. He said that if we did not put these agenda items front and forward, then there would be no stomach for globalization among Americans.
Revealing the not surprising fact that he was a Republican who believed in globalization and trade, he said if “I went out with a globalization agenda today in this climate, globalization would lose 70-30.” Immelt said that we have to change the facts on the ground for Americans and reinvest in this economy in real ways — “particularly in technology, particularly in manufacturing” — before we can shove more globalization at our workers and citizens.
Among those in the crowd were the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, Bloomberg and The Week‘s Margaret Carlson, former chief MSNBC election coverage producer Tamara Haddad, investor Mark Ein, New America Foundation Middle East Task Force Director Daniel Levy, Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf (with a piece out today that says that the American economy is today where Japan was in 1991), National Journal publisher John Fox Sullivan, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Republican anti-tax strategist Grover Norquist, financial markets expert and New America Foundation Global Strategic Finance Initiative Director Douglas Rediker, poll guru and Cook Report proprietor Charlie Cook, Financial Times writers Edward Luce, Daniel Dombey, Demetri Sevastupolu, Jurek Martin, Krishna Guha, Tom Brathwaite, and others.
Kudos to Chrystia Freeland, Edward Luce and their teams in DC and NY for first rate journalism — which I hope they are able to smartly sustain during grinding economic conditions.
— Steve Clemons