You’ve heard of think tanks. Now meet an “action tank.”
It’s called Jackson Hole Economics, and you’ll find it online at JHEconomics.com.
Finance and economic leaders Alex Friedman and Larry Hatheway — both valley residents — created Jackson Hole Economics as a resource for nonpartisan commentary on economics, politics and the environment and “actionable ideas” for achieving sustainable growth and improving the human condition.
In a “What We Believe” statement Friedman and Hatheway argue that sustainable growth is the core challenge confronting society.
Though it tends to be talked about in terms of limiting harm to the environment, they believe that’s too narrow a focus.
Sustainability, they say “should be considered in a broader context, incorporating economics, politics, the environment and finance.”
That means, for example, looking at the unequal distribution of income and wealth, plutocratic tendencies, the interconnection of economic and political systems and the risks for “unfettered” capitalism.
Articles on JHEconomics.com nowinclude “The China geopolitical story will get more intense,” “Restoring Central Banks’ credibility” and “How to meet the Davos challenge.” Contributors are experts in a range of fields, and include Friedman and Hatheway.
Friedman has been CEO of GAM Investments in London; global chief investment officer of UBS Wealth Management in Zurich; chief financial officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; a White House fellow in the Clinton administration; and an assistant to the secretary of defense. Locally, he serves on the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust board.
Hatheway is also a GAM Investments alumnus, serving from 2015 to 2019 as group chief economic and global head of investment solutions. While at UBS Investment Bank, his titles included chief economist and head of global asset allocation. He’s also had roles at the Federal Reserve, Citibank and Manufacturers Hanover Trust.
Friedman answered some questions by email. The following has been lightly edited.
Q: Will access to the website be free?
Q: Will there be things to buy there, like reports? Is this a business venture?
A: No and no. JH Economics is designed to be a free public resource that provides commentary and analysis on economics, politics, the environment and finance, and develops actionable ideas for how sustainable growth can be better achieved.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: We aim to reach individuals who have an interest in economics, policy and politics, philanthropy and the environment, and who want to explore key global issues in greater depth.
Importantly, we believe there is a need for objective and nonpartisan analysis that offers well-reasoned, practical ideas about how to steer the world back to sustainable economic and political outcomes.
Given our backgrounds, we anticipate that a significant number of our readers will have backgrounds in finance, but we have designed this effort to reach a broad cross-section of individuals from different professions and walks of life, but with a common interest in sustainable economic and political outcomes.
Q: When you come up with ideas to solve problems and lay out steps — what happens next?
A: In all honesty, it is too early to say — our project is just getting off the ground. However, our plan is to create an inclusive forum that offers different perspectives from contributors with varied backgrounds, for example in business, economics, finance, philanthropy and journalism, among others.
Via social media, we plan to review feedback on our content. Without question, that feedback will help guide our research and thinking.
At root, however, our aim is to introduce fresh thinking for ways to address some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. If we are successful, then “what happens next” is that we will have helped be an important catalyst for discussion and debate, and ultimately we hope to contribute in our own small way to addressing real problems by rigorous engagement.
Q: In the announcement you mention having “convenings.” Do you anticipate hosting conferences in Jackson Hole and, if so, who would be invited?
A: We will host virtual and actual forums. Just as our website is open to all interested readers, we will try to make all the ways we disseminate views as open as possible.
We plan to hold an annual conference around the August Federal Reserve convening in Jackson Hole, as a number of the participants in the Fed conference are individuals with whom we have active professional dialogues.
Q: The expression “action tank” — it differentiates you from think tank, but exactly how?
A: While “think tanks” can take many forms, they are usually thought of as venues where careful and often meticulous analysis is undertaken.
While we also intend to offer analytical written content, our emphasis is on offering solutions to solve problems or to steer economic and political systems on to more inclusive and sustainable paths.
Our focus will be on practical solutions, backed by careful analysis.
In our most recent articles, for example, we have proffered ideas on how to reform the governance of foundations; ways in which U.S. tax laws ought to be changed to deliver more equitable outcomes; how corporate and national accounting standards should be augmented to include new metrics to measure company performance in areas spanning carbon emissions, customer satisfaction, equitable pay and diversity; and how critical environmental steps can be taken as the retail industry shrinks.
Our focus on offering pragmatic solutions is a key differentiating feature between our “action tank” and a ‘think tank’.
Q: Obviously you wouldn’t launch a project like this if you didn’t perceive a gap? Could you explain what that gap is?
A: Although an increasing number of individuals, from ordinary citizens to academics, journalists, and business people, are interested in pursuing more sustainable economic and political outcomes, it is our belief that their voices are often disparate and disjointed. Our aim is to highlight common ground where progress can be made.
For instance, take climate change and income inequality, two seemingly unrelated, yet critical, challenges facing society today. They have something important in common.
In part, we fail to address those problems because we fail to properly focus our attention on them. If companies had to report their performance not just in terms of profitability but also in terms of environmental impact (e.g., CO2 emissions) and in terms of pay gaps between senior executives and the rest, we believe behaviors would begin to shift in the right direction.
For some companies, reporting those new metrics might result in “name and shame.” For others it would unleash a desire to be “best in class”across all metrics, from earnings per share to carbon footprint to equitable pay.
The key point is that a relatively simple step — in this case greater transparency across stakeholder (not just shareholder) metrics — can have powerful impacts on behavior, helping to nudge everyone in the right direction.
In short, we aim to fill the gap that exists between growing social awareness that something must be done and concrete, clear and politically actionable steps that will help move things in the right direction, namely toward more sustainable outcomes.