I am pleased to introduce Georgia Levenson Keohane, CEP’s second guest blogger. She has served as an executive at the September 11 Fund, a McKinsey consultant, and, most recently, as a consultant and writer whose pieces on philanthropy and social and economic policy issues have appeared in publications such as Slate and the American Prospect.
I met Georgia as an MBA student at Harvard Business School in the late 1990s. When I think of her, I think in particular of one moment, in a required first-year class called “Business, Government, and the International Economy.”
We were discussing the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal when one of our classmates spoke up and said this: “I think FDR was the worst president in American history. Hoover was right to let the markets play themselves out and if we’d just stuck with his approach we wouldn’t have the welfare state we have today.”
At first, I thought he was joking. But then I realized that, not only was he serious, many (maybe even most) of the 78 students in our first-year section seemed to agree. A few hands went up, including mine, but the professor called on Georgia.
“Capitalism can only exist and thrive,” I remember her saying, “if there is some belief on the part of citizens in the fairness of the system. Government has a role to play in guarding against market failures. Do people not understand what kind of suffering occurred during the Great Depression? People were standing in line for bread in huge numbers. If we don’t have compassion for those who are suffering, and seek to aid them, our social fabric won’t hold together. There will be rioting in the streets, businesses will be looted, and our capitalist system won’t exist anymore.”
I don’t know if those were her exact words, but that’s the way I remember it. She and I were subsequently dubbed the “Joan Baezes” of our section by the sizable number of our more conservative section-mates. For what? For arguing, simply, that free markets have their limitations.
Many still seem unwilling to open their eyes to this – even after the spectacular and painful examples of market failures we have recently experienced and witnessed.
That’s why I appreciate so much the perspective Georgia offers on philanthropy in the posts she’ll be contributing to the CEP blog in the coming days. She assesses the role of philanthropy in this larger context, touching on topics from Goldman Sachs’ responsibility to society to PRIs to the role of philanthropy in this country.