What are the most exciting things in business today?
Robert D. Hormats is the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs. He was formerly vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) and managing director of Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Hormats has also served as ambassador and deputy US Trade Representative, and senior deputy assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs at the US Department of State. He was a senior staff member on the National Security Council and senior economic advisor to National Security Advisors Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Hormats has received the French Legion of Honor and Arthur Fleming Award.
Mr. Hormats has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and is a member of the Board of Visitors of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Dean's Council of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Mr. Hormats' publications include Abraham Lincoln and the Global Economy; American Albatross: The Foreign Debt Dilemma; and Reforming the International Monetary System. Mr. Hormats earned a B.A. from Tufts University with a concentration in economics and political science; an M.A. and a Ph.D. in international economics from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Question: What are the most exciting things in business today
Robert Hormats: There is still a great deal of innovation. There’s innovation in the energy sector.
There’s innovation in pharmaceutical industry. New drugs are being discovered all the time. Perhaps not as rapidly as one would hope to cure the major diseases of our time, but a lot of technical progress is being made there. A lot of brilliant people are working hard on developing new drugs.
There is also a sense among people in the business community that they know they have to play a broader role, a more robust role in the global economy. And they’re doing it quite well. I think the business community has a greater sense of the opportunities available than perhaps it did 10 years ago in many of these areas. And I have a lot of confidence that American business can respond to these challenges. But I think it’s also incumbent upon American business not just to look after its own interests in running their company’s profitably, although obviously one has to do that. That’s critical for any company if it wants to survive, and be very profitable, and enhance shareholder value, and improve the opportunities for its workers; but I think American business also have to play a greater role in the policy area.
American business should be a leader in emphasizing the importance of improving the American educational system. American business should be a leader in emphasizing that we need to reduce dependence on imported energy because we’re so vulnerable to disruptions there. American business should be the leader in supporting mid-career and late-career training programs or retraining programs for workers who are displaced by change.
American business should be insistent that the federal government address these long term financial issues of entitlements, not just sweep them under the rug or kick the can down the road. Business has to, if it wants to enhance its own prospects for the future, be very actively involved in the policy debate, and be a constructive player, and make sure that we don’t have this two-tiered society – a society divided between those who feel they’re benefiting from change, benefiting from globalization, and people who feel that change, and progress, and globalization are a threat.
And if they want to get the best employees in the future, they certainly have to be at the forefront of the effort to strengthen and enhance prospects for the education system. Because if we don’t have well trained students who can deal with mathematics, and physics, and chemistry, and biology at a very high level, American companies simply will not have the people they need for the next decade or two. And the American system will suffer, not to mention these individuals who won’t have jobs or won’t have good jobs, and will be deprived of the potential.
And that’s particularly true for minorities and people in the immigrant community. They need to get the very best possible education because they’re going to be a growing factor in the workforce. And unless we’re able to do that, and unless business is able to make this a high priority and willing to make it a high priority, those people will be alienated from our society. And our society won’t have the benefit of their talents, of their skills, of their creativity. And therefore the individuals lose and the society loses.
Recorded On: July 25, 2007
Hormats is jazzed about innovation in the energy sector.
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
A study on flies may hold the key to future addiction treatments.
- A new study suggests that drinking alcohol can affect how memories are stored away as good or bad.
- This may have drastic implications for how addiction is caused and how people recall intoxication.
- The findings may one day lead to a new form of treatment for those suffering from addiction.
A new AI-produced commercial from Lexus shows how AI might be particularly suited for the advertising industry.
- The commercial was written by IBM's Watson. It was acted and directed by humans.
- Lexus says humans played a minimal part in influencing Watson, in terms of the writing.
- Advertising, with its clearly defined goals and troves of data, seems like one creative field in which AI would prove particularly useful.
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