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Columbia Faculty Members Have Strong Presence at Davos

By Peter Kobel

Columbia University 's faculty was once again well-represented at the World Economic Forum in Davos , Switzerland , in late January. Among the Business School professors who joined world leaders, policymakers and other academics at the Forum were Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, Charles Calomiris, Eli Noam and Xavier Sala-i-Martin. Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who recently joined the SIPA faculty, also attended.

Stiglitz, a University Professor in the School of Business and a Davos veteran for many years, participated on several panels, among them "How to Create a Framework for Sustained Growth." Other participants on the session included government economic policy makers from France , Germany and Japan .

While most panelists expressed confidence in the economic measures taken by their countries for growth, Stiglitz challenged some of their assumptions. "I think Europe has been much too fiscally restrained," Stiglitz said, "and America is much too little fiscally restrained. Every standard macroeconomics textbook says that when you're in an economic downturn, you're supposed to stimulate the economy and have deficits. The focus that's been expressed here of trying to get their deficits down seems to me displaced."

Professor of Economics Sala-i-Martin contributed to several panels, among them "Searching for Growth's Mysterious Missing Ingredient." Sala-i-Martin said the panel didn't reach a consensus on growth.

"I mean, the key word in the title is 'mysterious.' I think there is a theoretical consensus among economists of what should work," he said. "For example, we all agree that education is good. We have invested billions of dollars in schools and teachers and materials in Africa , and Africa doesn't grow. There are many mysteries in the world of economics."

Charles Calomiris, Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions, moderated a luncheon panel titled "Why All Financial Regulation Is Now Global," which discussed the effects of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the 2002 bill Congress passed in the wake of Enron's collapse to restore public confidence in corporate accounting practices. Calomiris called for more discussion of how it affects firms outside the United States that need to comply with its rulings.

Eli Noam, professor of Finance and Economics and director of the Columbia Institute on Tele-Information, spoke at two panels -- called governors' meetings -- for media leaders. One session comprised CEOs from communications and media companies, and the other was made up of editorial leaders, ranging from the Financial Times to Al Jazeera. "This was my fourth Davos meeting, and I found people in a positive listening mode rather than a PR mode," said Noam. "Media leaders are genuinely adrift. Things were going beautifully for a number of years -- the sky was the limit. Now the survivors wonder what went wrong and what they should be doing, beyond more consolidations. The business leaders tend to be an optimistic bunch, while the editors in chief, by nature, are more skeptical. All tried to figure out what the changing value chain of media means for their operations."

This past January, Robinson attended both the Davos Forum and the World Social Forum, a sort of alternate, or even anti-Davos event, that was held in Bombay , India . "It was important for me, as head of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, to link with both forums," she said. "The issues were not that dissimilar -- both dealt with the theme of the accountability of international financial institutions, like the IMF, and transnational corporations."

Many Columbians waxed enthusiastic about the opportunities that Davos presents. Sala-i-Martin explained, "I can talk to economists for hours. I can talk to Nobel Prize people here next to my office. But the beauty of Davos is that you can sit at a table with Bill Gates and Michael Dell talking about the future of computers. I mean, who can you learn more from than these guys? I don't get to talk to Bill Gates very often."

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Published: Mar 1, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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