"Anti-business" Obama targeted by business, and academia

15:39, October 07, 2010      

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What to expect at a world renowned business forum? Strategies, leadership, innovations, and Obama.

Criticizing voices about White House economic team, harsh or mild, echoed several times in New York's Radio City Music Hall, where the annually two-day World Business Forum was held.

The first blast burst from Jack Welch, former General Electric Co. chief and management guru, who called Obama administration " just plain anti-business."

Welch, who didn't favor Obama as president in the first place, attacked Obama's policies from trade, foreign taxes on multinational corporations and the bailout of the U.S. auto industry.

Welch said the last time he had the feeling of "malaise" was under President Jimmy Carter, who "was moaning about malaise all the time."

"We've got to fix some of this crazy stuff going on now," Welch said, "We've got to grow the pie. We've got to celebrate entrepreneurship. We've got to grow businesses."

Even someone who used to be inside White House agrees that President Obama needs bring more business people on boards.

Former White House adviser David Gergen told the audience that he believes Obama should have "heavyweight CEOs" in his inner circle.

Gergen said that adding new business voices would strengthen and diversify President Obama's administration.

"One of the dangers of putting together a team is whether you get people who are all alike," he said, and he believes the current administration is an example of that.

There has long been doubts and criticism on Obama for employing too many academics on his economic team.

"He has too many people on his inner circle from Chicago. He needs to break that team up a bit," he said.

Interestingly, University of Chicago economist and " Freakonomics" author Steve Levitt was skeptical of economists' role in government. Levitt, a colleague at University of Chicago and friend of new White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee, said most times the policy is decided and lawmakers are just looking for economists to back them up.

When later the moderator threw the question at Joseph Stiglitz if he thinks there are too many academics in White House economic team, the Nobel laureate economist paused for a while, spurring laughers in the audience.

Stiglitz then went on and explained that he, too, sees the potential of more business people in White House.

"You need both," he said. "Academics have had time to think about the big problems facing the economy, but business knows the real problems facing the country now."

Stiglitz ruled out that he would take Lawrence Summers' role as the head of the National Economic Council. Appointing someone from the business community as Obama's chief economic advisor would be a good start, Stiglitz said.

But Obama may find it difficult if he wants to go after the big- name CEOs, Gergen warned. He said those senior executives are worried that the President's agenda isn't sufficiently friendly to corporate America.

"It may be harder to find them, frankly, today than it was two years ago. A lot of people in the business community feel alienated," he said, pointing to perceived uncertainty on tax and regulatory policy.



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