Apr 12, 2011

For Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Whirlwind Day at Wagner

Gordon Brown (r.) enjoys light-hearted moment at Henry Hart Rice Forum with Mitchell Moss.

Gordon Brown, the British Labour Party leader who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from June 2007 to May 2010, and is a current Member of Parliament, spent an engaging day at NYU Wagner on April 11 with groups of students, faculty, alumni, staff, and the dean, Ellen Schall. In the evening, he spoke to more than 150 friends of the public-service graduate school as the guest of the Henry Hart Rice Forum moderated by Mitchell Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Wagner.

The Right Honourable Mr. Brown projected optimism about globalization. He said vast increases in producers and consumers in fast-developing countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil will benefit the West, as long as the U.S. and Europe invest heavily in science, technology and education and keep the doors of global trade open.

In this way, Mr. Brown argued, the West can ensure it will profit and gain new sources of employment from globalization -- and ease the understandable anxiety so rife today about economic change.

"For the first time last year, in almost 200 years, Europe and America are being out-produced, out manufactured, and out-invested by the rest of the world," he said. "...It makes people insecure; it makes people feel, ‘Are we witnessing the decline of the West?...And then people feel insecure about their jobs."

It is this economic "sea change," which surpasses even that of the Industrial Revolution, that holds the seeds of opportunity for a more balanced global economy, according to the former prime minister.

"The people who are producing goods in China, India, and elsewhere - they don't want just to be workers producing goods; they want to be consumers too," he said.

"They want to enjoy some of benefit of the goods that come with a higher standard of living. They want to be part of the industrial society as middle class consumers of the future," and they want to have "houses, electrical goods, better clothes, higher quality food, health care, and education."

"There is a huge opportunity for us in what is about to happen, because we in America and Europe can be the people who are equipped to sell goods and services that are sold in the rest of the world," added Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown, who has a PhD in History from the University of Edinburg, was introduced by Dean Schall and queried by Professor Moss about his youthful influences (mainly his parents and his school teachers), rapport with U.S. presidents (from Clinton to Bush to Obama), and Scotland's historical impact on the American experiment.

The event was held at the Kimmel Center of New York University. Mr. Brown is the university's inaugural Distinguished Global Leader in Residence.

In his remarks, the former prime minister warned against a "race to the bottom" that will occur if countries are permitted to attract business via deregulation. What is required, he stated, is the development and maintenance of consistent international standards for investment.

Fielding a question from a Wagner student about the environmental impact of burgeoning consumer economies, he said that worldwide treaties, such as the one attempted but not enacted at the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit, are clearly merited .

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