Vail Symposium speakers to talk about the economy |

Vail Symposium speakers to talk about the economy

Andrew Tisch

VAIL – Back in the day, the Vail Symposium brought in nationally known speakers to talk about big issues, and how they relate to the valley. That day is here again.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Vail Symposium Jan. 16 will host “Economic Revival,” a discussion, followed by a question-and-answer session featuring two true economic heavyweights: Andrew Tisch, co-chairman of the Loews Corporation, and David Walker, former comptroller general of the United States. The discussion will be moderated by Beaver Creek resident Richard Bard, who brings an impressive resume of his own to the party, as president of Bard Capital and the former chairman of the Kansas City bureau of the Federal Reserve Board.

The event was put together by Alby Segall, the Symposium’s relatively new CEO. Segall is a high-school friend of Tisch, and met Walker at a cocktail party when Walker and others were launching the “no labels” political group.

Since the Symposium board had been working to put together a couple of events featuring influential people to celebrate the Symposium’s anniversary, Segall asked Tisch and Walker if they’d like to come to Vail. Both said yes, room was found on their respective calendars and the event was on.

“I’m really looking forward to coming to Vail,” Tisch said from New York during a phone interview. “I’m bringing my 16-year-old daughter, so I hope the snow’s great.”

Tisch said he plans to talk about what he’s seeing in the economy, and there are promising signs.

While the current economic slump has brought a lot of pain, Tisch said the slump has “corrected” much of the economy, which seems poised to start growing again.

“I’m hoping that the pain will have been productive and will allow us to be more competitive,” Tisch said.

For instance, the domestic auto industry was “dead as a doornail” in 2008, Tisch said. Now, after billions in federal bailout funds and bankruptcy-aided reorganizations, both Chrysler and – more so – General Motors are rolling out new products and have seen significant sales gains this year

And, while many people see India and China as ready to overtake this country economically, Tisch said the United States still has a lot going for it.

“Compared to China or India, we already have a lot in place,” Tisch said. The U.S. already has roads, bridges and power lines to virtually all of the country, he added – “it needs to be re-paved, but we have it.”

Beyond that, Tisch said this country still has the “finest colleges in the world.”

But there remain problems, of course. Immigration has to be fixed, and it’s not clear that the country’s housing markets have hit bottom yet. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, he said, and the ultimate, long-term fix will have to include better education.

According to the most recent numbers from Goldman Sachs, unemployment for people with bachelor’s or advanced degrees is less than half the national average of about 10 percent. Unemployment nationwide for people who haven’t finished high school exceeds 15 percent.

Another problem the country will have to face is what Tisch called the “glaring area” of this country’s new privileged class – goverment employees.

“You see their pay is greater than in the private sector, and they have incredibly generous pensions – that’s got to change,” he said.

“The country doesn’t mind cutbacks and pain as long as it’s shared,” he said.

While Tisch will speak from the private-sector side of the economy, Walker will talk about the government side of the country’s economy. And the news isn’t good.

When all the nation’s trust funds and spending are added up, the national debt is very nearly the size of the U.S. economy. Public debt per person now is double what it was at the end of World War II and climbing fast. And the federal government is now spending about $1.40 for every dollar it takes in.

It adds up to a looming debt crisis that will require strong medicine to correct, Walker said, including cutting spending and forcing Congress to face real consequences if it exceeds spending limits.

But, Walker said, he wants to focus more on the way forward during his presentation. It’s a message he’s already taken to 47 states – now it’s up to people to get Congress to listen.

While Beaver Creek resident Bard is supposed to be the moderator of the Jan. 16 event, he said he plans to spend a lot of time listening to the speakers, as well as the questions and comments from the audience.

Segall’s looking forward to the evening, too.

“As I was thinking about this program and what we have to present to Vail, I thought this is very much like if we were able to hear John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Mellon talking in 1931,” Segall said. “It’s very impressive.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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