The Environment

2009 Summer Seminars

June 29, 2009  • Institute Contributor

 2009 Summer Moderator Filmstrip




Five expert-moderated seminars were offered to participants on June 26-29 in Aspen, CO. The seminar topics included: the Global Economy; Green Investing; Sports and Values; Decision Making; and the relationship between government and business. The Annual Socrates Benefit Dinner was held on June 28.

The US and the Global Economy: How do we compare?
What is the outlook for the US economy in comparison to the challenges faced by Europe, Japan, and emerging markets? Can the US be an active player in the global economy without a stable domestic economy? How stable is the US economy? What are the short and long term goals and challenges? What are the likely domestic consequences of the Obama stimulus package? Does it provide assistance towards stabilizing the global economy? Finally, what can the US learn from other nations about economic recovery?
Moderator: Nouriel Roubini, Ph.D, Professor of Economics Stern School of Business, New York University and Chairman of RGE Monitor

The Truth about Going Green: How do we make sense of green investing?
Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the center of the Obama administration goal to accomplish three things simultaneously- jobs, economic growth, and CO2 reductions. But clean energy has gone through investment bubbles before while federal support of some renewable energy technologies have been failures.  This program will delve into what are the real technological, environmental, and political considerations of renewable resources. How much is hype? What is doable? Are big breakthroughs required or is our challenge simply one of deployment?

VC funding for clean energy increased tenfold between 2003 and 2008. But much of this investment in areas such as ethanol, hydrogen and fuel cells has been or is being written off. Many advocates like Amory Lovins envision the clear energy solution to be on the PC model – lots of distributed small scale energy efficiency and renewable energy systems. And these advocates argue that a distributed energy system is cleaner, more jobs intensive and more secure. But is it realistic? How can renewable power scale up without a lot of additional transmission capacity?  Others argue that in a carbon constrained world nuclear power is the proven provider large scale very low carbon baseload power option, and that it that does not have the unreliability and intermittency limitations of renewable energy. But will nuclear be politically acceptable or even cost viable? And will an expected cap-and -trade program drive a lot of renewable investments?  This session will cover the values-based tension in the race to lower CO2 without hurting economic competitiveness. Energy has become front page news globally, and the solutions appear as multiple and as complicated as the challenges.
Moderator:  William D. Browning , Founder, Terrapin Bright Green, LLC

The Playing Field Revisited: The Impact of Sports on Our Values and Behavior
It has been said that sports is life with the volume turned up.  In our media-driven, sports-crazed society, sport is a multi-billion dollar industry that uses saturation marketing in such a way as to affect virtually every aspect of our lives.  Professional athletes and coaches are lauded as “heroes” and held in near equal regard-perhaps higher regard-than someone who might discover a breakthrough cure for cancer or negotiate a peace treaty.  The behavior of pro athletes and coaches is mimicked by youth athletes and coaches as well as business leaders, and the impact on adults and youth is enormous. In our increasingly diverse and fractured society, sports, in Thomas Boswell’s memorable phrase, “has become central to what remains of our American sense of identity” and has become “the meeting ground where we discuss our values.”  While huge battles rage in Iraq and social problems abound, the U.S. Congress holds hearings on steroid use in sports that push other issues off the public agenda.  What is it that gives sports such a hold on American life?  And how does it shape our values and behavior? This seminar will examine the ways that sports impact our values and the decisions that come from those values.  We will look at the kind of society that sports helps shape and how society, in turn, impacts the world of sports.  We will then consider the intersection of our sports and media cultures.
Moderator: Jeremy Schaap, columnist, ESPN

Social and Business Decision Making:  Hopelessly Biased or Improvable?
Poor decision making has serious consequences. Bad investments can lead to financial ruin, inefficient energy use has a devastating global impact, and eating too much of the wrong things can make us sick and die young. The decisions people make therefore impact themselves individually and also us collectively as we bear the burden of these faulty decisions.

Is the situation hopeless or can knowledgeable leaders transform themselves and others into better decision makers?  Research in psychology and behavioral economics reveals strong biases and distortions that lead individuals and groups to make predictable errors in judgment and decision making. What bugs in decision making at the personal or social level lead to ignoring or shortcutting data critical for quality decision making? We will look carefully at these biases and consider whether – and how – these should be exploited for the good of individuals and society. 

We will consider when efforts to correct decision making go too far, and what are the tradeoffs we face when we allow others to make our decisions for us or to shape our decisions without our awareness. This will require us to examine closely how techniques to debias decisions have been used in the real world. We will consider social decision making around a number of topics, including for example climate change, taxes, nutrition, and gambling in its various forms, and in contexts ranging from fuel-efficient transportation to decisions about organ donations. Decision errors have common roots and potential common solutions by addressing the problems explicitly and exposing our decision data and criteria to the light of day.
Moderator: Rebecca Ratner, Associate Professor of Marketing, Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland

Beyond the Crisis: Rethinking the Relationship Between Government and Business
The relationship between business and government is a constantly evolving and not always harmonious compact of private and public interests. The current economic emergency raises new questions about the ordering of this relationship, and poses some old ones with new urgency. Where do business and government stand in relation to each other today–and how, if at all, is this going to change? Many see the economic breakdown that began in 2007 not just as the result of reckless financial innovation and weak financial regulation, but of wider inadequacies in our market-based economy. We placed too much trust in markets and in self-regulation, it is argued. Government must play a bigger role, on this view, to moderate the excesses of the market and assure broad-based economic success. How far is this critique of “American-style capitalism” justified? And what are the alternatives?

Stricter regulation of financial markets is almost universally agreed to be necessary. But what forms should this take? In global financial markets, national regulation has its limits. What is the international dimension, and how is it best addressed? How far was the economic emergency a result of broader corporate governance failures-for instance in the setting of pay and design of incentives? Is it the government’s job to regulate these practices-or would it be better to empower shareholders so that they can do the job for themselves? How much of a problem is corruption, both in business and in government, and what can be done to curb it?

Milton Friedman famously once said that the only duty of a company was to make profits for its shareholders. Is that true? Do firms have social responsibilities beyond those mandated by law? If so, what are they, and how are they best discharged? We will also discuss the proper role of government in the economy more broadly-asking, again, whether this is going to change. How big should government be in relation to the economy as a whole? Will the US move closer to the European model of bigger government, higher taxes, and heavier regulation-and should it?
Moderator: Clive Crook, senior editor, The Atlantic, and chief Washington commentator of The Financial Times