Barton and Kleinfeld’s tips for Uncle Sam

March 1, 2011

During the depths of the financial crisis, Alcoa announced that it would lay off 13% of its global workforce, or about 13,500 people. Since then, they have built up their presence in China and Russia, finalized a new mine in Brazil, and started construction of the world’s largest aluminum facilities in Saudi Arabia. Alcoa’s rate of job creation in its home country of the United States, however, has been rather tepid in comparison.

Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld acknowledged that prospects for his business today were better abroad than they were at home, but he did note that in the past year Alcoa hired 1,500 people in the U.S. in the automotive and aerospace industries and so long as the United States retained its sense of entrepreneurship, creativity and excellence in higher education, jobs will come.

Dominic Barton was similarly sober about the current state of the U.S. labor market, saying that it’s currently undergoing an acute phase of creative destruction. However, he urged the audience to focus on long-term job growth, citing the example of Samsung in the wake of Korea’s financial crisis in 1997:

Samsung.  In 1997 there was massive layoffs that were going on. So if you looked at them with the lens of what happened in that crisis, yep, they laid off a lot of people. The number of jobs they’ve created since because of the investments that they’ve made is many, many multiples of what they’ve lost. But they’re different people. I think that what we need is this. There is restructuring, and there always will be restructuring. We can never get away from that.  But what’s — what are the conditions that are in place in the country to enable jobs to be created? And that’s something where I think business can help play a role. Not to subsidize jobs when they shouldn’t exist, but to help create the conditions to do it.

Towards the end of the Newsmaker, Chrystia steered the conversation to the relationship between the business community and the Obama administration. Klaus Kleinfeld observed that after a period of remarkable coordination during the financial crisis, government policy since then become less responsive to current developments and that the “societal dialogue” has become more “stratified.” Dominic Barton agreed and offered his own solution to this problem:  stripping elected officials of some authority over issues of economic competitiveness and handing it to technocrats who will be able to administer policy over a time-frame longer than the next election. Countries like Malaysia and South Korea have lessons to teach the United States in terms of of streamlined policy-making, Barton said:

Posted by Peter Rudegeair.

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The question was being asked by Benoit J.P. Flammang, CEO of Beninvest & Associates.

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