Saturday, September 16, 2006

'if Davos is Mt. Everest...

then the Raffles Forum is Bukit Timah.' - Kishore Mahbubani on whether or not the Raffles Forum seeks to be the World Economic Forum of the East

Larry Summers, current President Emeritus of Harvard University, in describing the dynamism of a global economy discussed how two Stanford PhD drop-outs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, would later construct a business empire, Google, to overshadow the combined worth of three industries, aerospace one of them. This statement was believable enough and some argued that aerospace has been in decline -- therefore it's plausible that Google is larger than the three.

In actuality Google is worth around $4 billion (US) while the aerospace industry recorded net sales in 2005 of around $180 billion. My point herein is manifold. One component is the absence of proper fact-checking. The claim that a single company's revenue is higher than an entire industry's should arouse skepticism, let alone a comparison against three major industries. Maybe some research assistant fed him something about the Google empire approaching a net worth of $500 billion as the result of some financial misinterpretation. I mean, chalking on extra zeros is easy, we've all done it. I just hope not on your tax returns. That others were not as arrested by this declaration was the second component. I mean, he's Larry Summers --- the man had a tenured post at Harvard by 28. Don't dare question him! And just who are you to think he's wrong?

It's the cult of authority. It happens after reaching a social stature that exempts you from the doubt of lesser minds. Confine them to the blogosphere (how I dread that word) and obscure journals. In the meantime podium stands and business class fares wait for you. But even geniuses err and should be held accountable as such. It's easy to issue this commentary from the comfort of a keyboard and easy GOOGLE access, but all public speakers should be grilled for making ludicrous claims like his. Even ex-Presidents of Ivy League universities.

the following is taken from the September 15th issue of Malaysia's The Star

Top brains meet to debate issues

SOME of the world’s best brains are in town to chew on some of the world’s thorniest problems.

From yesterday, men and women whose ideas rewrite rules, corporate jetsetters who invest millions and reap billions, and influential policymakers whose inflections – not just words – are scrutinised for meaning converge at two back-to-back seminars.

The first, the Raffles Forum, organised by Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) School of Public Policy, will engage a star-studded cast on the school’s natural territory: good governance. It will be the first of what is to become an annual forum.

Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen, an economist, kicked off the two-day discussion yesterday, with his perspective on how governments may evolve to run a tighter-knit world spinning ever faster, thanks to the IT revolution.

Prof Sen, who challenged the common notion that food shortage is the major cause of famines, is known for his work in welfare economics.

The acts to follow are likely to be as delectable to the intellectually-hungry. For a start, Paul Volcker will speak on the role of the state in financial markets, leveraging on his well-remembered turn as chief of the US Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987.

Li Rongrong, China’s top official in a body that runs the state’s corporate assets – the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission – will weigh in on the question of privatisation. At another session, an official from oil-rich Abu Dhabi, Saeed Al-Hajeri, will explain how he invests national wealth.

But the most-anticipated encounter is today when Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and noted American public finance stalwart Lawrence Summers, a former US Treasury Secretary, share the stage and their ideas on good governance.

LKY School dean Kishore Mahbubani could barely conceal his glee on the eve of the launch of the forum, which has been described as Singapore’s Davos.

In an interview on Wednesday, he said: “The biggest payoff is the spectacular launch for the annual forum. It’s hard to assemble a better group of speakers.

“I am particularly proud of the Amartya Sen session ... we start with a big bang. And of course, all the media interest will be on the Lee-Summers dialogue the next day ... we wanted to ensure we ended with a big bang.”

The forum was timed to take advantage of the Sept 13-20 IMF-World Bank annual meetings, he said, with the heavyweights present.

The customary Programme of Seminars that accompanies the annual meetings is co-organised by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies. It has scored many firsts, said Prof Tommy Koh, the institute’s chairman.

“It’s the first programme which has a clear focus – Asia In The World And The World In Asia. The first to succeed in enlisting so many thoughtful leaders from the region,” he said.

“My hope is that, on Sept 19, my friends from the IMF and World Bank will tell me this is the best Programme of Seminars they have ever organised,” he added.

It is a sign of the times that both seminars have sessions to deal with a future in which demographics will threaten economics.

The implications of Asia’s ageing societies – shrinking labour force, slowing economies and pressures on pension, medical and long-term care costs – will be debated by a panel of experts at the programme. – The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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