Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance conference addresses economic crises spurred by COVID-19

On October 1 NYU Law’s Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance (ICGF) convened experts for a wide-ranging discussion on the future of economic and financial policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and other globally destabilizing phenomena. “This conference is fundamentally about the intersection of legal practice here in New York, economic policy writ large, and financial markets,” said Professor Robert Jackson Jr., a former Securities and Exchange Commissioner and a co-director of the ICGF.

In a series of virtual panels at the ICGF's Economic Policy Conference, experts discussed the role of worker power in the economy; the struggles of small businesses in the COVID-19 crisis; the intersection of financial regulation and climate change; and ways to build an economy more resilient to crises. Speakers included Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton; SEC Commissioner Allison Lee; Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Rostin Behnam; Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the COVID-19 Congressional Oversight Commission; and Satyam Khanna and Jacob Leibenluft, fellows at the Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance, among others.

Selected remarks from the discussion:

Allison Lee: “We need to get accurate information about climate risks—the impacts, the opportunities—into financial markets so that assets can be accurately priced and capital can be driven towards climate solutions. By some estimates, we’re operating within a very short timeframe, so the time to act is now, and that’s the message I really am trying to get some consensus around.” 

Watch the panel on sustainable finance:

Bharat Ramamurti: “There’s really two major lessons that I take from the crisis and the response so far. So the first is that we now have a very strong body of evidence that in good times, corporations will take care of their shareholders and their executives first, and the workers at those corporations will be the last to benefit. After a very extended period of rise in corporate profits and economic growth, we were just starting to see some real wage increases…and once the pandemic hit, the corporations responded by asking their workers to shoulder the burden first before shareholders and executives took on any of that…So I think there’s really two lessons from that. First is, if you want to help workers…you need to help workers directly. The idea that if you give support to companies that will translate into help for their employees is not a link that really exists very strongly. At a minimum you’re going to lose a lot in the process and a lot of that money is going to get siphoned off into other areas…The second thing that we need to take from the crisis is that we need to change fundamentally the way that corporations operate in the United States. This idea that in good times everyone but workers are going to benefit first and then in bad times, immediately workers are going to be the first to get hit. That’s just not sustainable, and I think what we need to do is figure out what series of changes are necessary to link up again corporate profits and workers’ wages and benefits.” 

Watch the panel on corporate resilience:

Gene Sperling: “We have the worst unemployment insurance system, tens of millions of people are not covered because they’re not considered in formal employment relationships…. The fact that we’ve broadened it [during the pandemic] to pretty much everybody, and that we were aiming for 100 percent—we might have overachieved that—but 100 percent of your paycheck, is huge. If a person can get 100 percent of their paycheck when the country’s in an economic crisis, that single policy means they can pay their rent, they can pay their bills, they can have food on the table, So it is just critical, that I think when we get to the next stage, we don’t just say ‘Well, what’s the best kind of temporary band aid?’ but ‘What is the best thing we’ve done here that we now need to make part of a … strengthening of an economic-dignity net?’” 

Watch the closing conversation on crisis response:

Posted November 5, 2020