On April 2, 2009, Aspen’s Initiative on Financial Security hosted a dialogue entitled, “Building Main Street’s Financial Security in the Obama Era,” exploring policies and possibilities for increasing household financial security in America. Moderated by Walter Isaacson, President of The Aspen Institute, the event brought together a distinguished panel to discuss how to restore confidence in the private savings system, and improve the system to serve all Americans. Panelists included Michael J. Johnston, Executive Vice President of the Capital Group; Eugene A. Ludwig, Founder and CEO of Promontory Financial Group and former U.S. Comptroller of the Currency; Marc Morial, President & CEO of the National Urban League and former Mayor of New Orleans; Terry Savage, nationally-syndicated personal finance columnist with The Chicago Sun-Times; and Paul Schott Stevens, President and CEO of the Investment Company Institute. Aspen IFS also released a new paper entitled, “Wall Street/Main Street: The Challenge of Building Financial Security in the Obama Era” to coincide with the event.
The discussion began by taking a glimpse into what Main Street is saying about the current financial situation. In reference to Americans who are losing their homes to foreclosure and seeing their retirement savings disappear, Terry Savage noted that although “faith in the future of our country has faded…there’s never been a 20-year period where you would’ve lost money in the S & P.” The conversation then moved to an examination of the regulatory framework of the financial system. “Focusing on the individual consumer should be the foundation of our regulatory system,” added Gene Ludwig. Although the conversation examined serious challenges facing our economy, the outlook was optimistic. Morial saw the moment as “a time of transformation, in which crisis creates opportunity.” “We’ve been through this before and gotten through it with hard work, self-reliance, and determination,” added Paul Schott Stevens as he emphasized the value of thrift. Michael Johnston rounded off the conversation conveying the undeniable link between Main Street and Wall Street, saying, “Wall Street needs to live up to the possibilities of the American people.”