- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2016

With a major presidential candidate running openly — and successfully — as a socialist, it is indeed time to talk about the future of capitalism in the United States, experts told a Washington Times Insights Club meeting held recently in a prestigious K Street law firm.

Two panels of financial, corporate and labor experts, and a keynote address by Scott Case, the energetic co-founder of Priceline.com and leader of a soon-to-be-unveiled travel enterprise, were highlights of the Feb. 1 afternoon event at K&L Gates.

David Keene, editorial and opinion editor of The Washington Times and president of The Washington Times Insights Club, welcomed guests to the “Capitalism in the 21st Century” event, which was sponsored by The Washington Times, K&L Gates and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen Moore, Washington Times economic policy columnist and founder of the Club for Growth, set the stage for the discussion by noting the “pathetic” growth in the nation’s GDP for the last quarter of 2015.

The less-than-1-percent growth means the economy is “barely treading water,” he said.

Compounding the sluggish recovery, weak wage growth and other dismal financial figures is the unsettling news that some Americans, especially young adults, are interested in socialism — and, based on his frequent talks on college campuses, even hostile to capitalism, Mr. Moore said. In fact, a 2015 Fox News poll found that 65 percent of adults under age 30 said they would be open to voting for a socialist for office, he said.

Despite these kinds of challenges, there is much potential for the U.S. economy to start booming again, said Mr. Moore, whose to-do list included corporate tax cuts, pro-American energy policies, roll-backs on regulations and changes to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

But success also requires the country to continue to move toward capitalism and away from welfare-state models, he said.

The first panel of experts reviewed questions about corporate governance and the still-shifting roles of shareholders, boards of directors and management.

Corporate stakeholders do not always support the same long-term strategies for a corporation — and yet they face the same knotty questions about when and whether to diversify, invest in research and development, or dive deeply into “green energy” or socially responsible activities.

Hon. Bart Gordon, partner at K&L Gates, said when it came to focusing on shareholder value, sustainability, global warming, income inequality, diversity or “all of the above,” his view was “strongly” in support of the latter. Good business and good corporate citizenship are linked to managing all these elements, said Mr. Gordon, who led the House Science and Technology Committee during his years as a Democrat representative of Tennessee.

Tom Quaadmann, senior vice president at U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, spoke of a company’s need to balance — or rebalance — the interests of shareholders, directors and management to ensure that “the right processes are in place.”

The third panelist, Damon Silvers, director of policy and special counsel at the AFL-CIO, raised the issues of “too-short” time-horizons for investments, which affect decision-making, as well as the need to rebalance leadership carefully. “Markets can be gamed,” he said, recalling the Enron scandal.

The second panel on regulatory reform, moderated by K&L Gates Partner Dan Crowley, delved more deeply into the merits and deficits of the Dodd-Frank law, the international Financial Stability Board, and how American competitiveness is affected by competing regulatory paradigms.

Jeff Brown, a senior vice president and head of legislative and regulatory affairs at The Charles Schwab Corporation, noted the explosion of growth in this sector — there are so many regulators they bump into each other, he noted to laughter. Andres Gil, director of the U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, talked about the differences between Europe and U.S. regulatory systems and related reforms. James Segel, executive director of Boston Asset Management Association, offered many savvy insights about how the financial bailouts of 2008 are still energizing anger and frustration in the American people and political parties — resulting, in part, in the popular appeal of Democrat presidential candidate Bernard Sanders.

In his remarks, Mr. Case, the founding CFO of Priceline.com and now CTO of Potomac Innovation, recalled the heady days of dial-up Internet, expensive computer purchases and explosion of websites that accompanied the 1990s creation of the “Name Your Own Price” website for leisure-travel shopping.

Mr. Case shared a few details about his newest venture — aimed at business travel — that will debut soon, and shared insights about starting a global company that will deal with international regulations and foreign currencies in a still-rapidly changing technological environment.

A self-identified “start-up junkie,” Mr. Case predicted that innovation is going to help people re-imagine countless aspects of modern life — we’re about a decade away from “robots driving us everywhere,” he said.

Cheryl Wetzstein is the Special Sections Manager for the TWT Media Group.

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