Last week, NMHC welcomed members of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors to the Four Seasons in Chicago for its most exclusive meeting of the year. Beyond discussion of business themes like leadership strategy, capital markets, and product design, hot topics for speakers and members alike were globalization, technology and innovation and their role in reshaping the economy and the upcoming-and increasingly controversial-presidential election.
To that end, political strategist David Axelrod, the architect behind President Obama’s election and reelection campaigns, kicked off the meeting’s first general session. Calling presidential races “MRIs for the soul,” Axelrod said the unpredictability of this year’s race reflects the fact that we are living in “really, really, really convulsive times.”
The speed at which globalization, technology development, communications and demographic changes are happening is upending our sense of security in the world and creating a political environment ripe for disruption.
“It portends a very, very negative campaign,” he said. “If you can’t rally people around yourself, you have to make it about being against your competitor.”
Beyond offering a tale-of-the-tape analysis of the major strengths and weaknesses of today’s presidential frontrunners, Axelrod also shared some insights into Obama’s first days as president.
“There was no time to sort of look around and say, ‘Hey, this is neat,’” he explained. “Every day, for the first many months, we felt like a triage unit trying to push buttons to try to save the economy.”
Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson, Jr., offered attendees another glimpse inside the darkest days of the financial crisis, detailing out some of the discussions that led to the decision to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “If we didn’t stabilize them, we would have a global meltdown,” Paulson said.
But he knew permanent housing finance reform was going to be tricky. “We’ll get involved in a holy war on both sides,” he said he remembered telling President Bush when asked what reform should look like. “And we just need to get through it now.” His solution was to “put them in a time out,” although he said he absolutely did not think the GSEs would still be conservatorship eight years later.
“It’s a national disgrace that nothing has been done,” he said.
Paulson had a similar read on the role that globalization and technology have played in creating the current political climate-and stressed the economic consequences.
“Something very different is going on today. The candidates are reflecting views of the American people, and they are all anti-trade, anti-economic integration. It’s hard for me to understand that we have four percent of the world’s population and we want to put a wall around America and not work with the other 96 percent.”
Calling himself a “big fan of globalization,” real estate mogul Sam Zell expressed similar concern about the nation’s trade volumes. He noted that from 1944 until last year, international trade had increased every year; however, last year international trade was down 15 percent. Moreover, U.S. productivity levels have gone down as more regulations restrict business. “We’re in better shape than the rest of the world, but we rely on the rest of the world to be able to grow,” he said. “We’re in a kind of vulnerable spot today.”
Zell also said he was less unnerved about the fall election than others. “A year ago I told anyone who would listen that underestimating Trump was a big mistake. I think he’s caught a nerve,” he said. “... The level of anger, frustration-this country is very much on the precipice of what could be significant change.”
But more than just shifts in the political landscape, technology is accelerating change and adaptation in nearly every other aspect of life-and it’s happening at an exponential rate, explained technologist Vivek Wadhwa. This means technological advancements are doubling in speed every year or two, driving the rapid digitization of everything.
“Data is the new oil,” said Wadhwa.
Exponential technological change certainly has implications for business, including the multifamily industry. It puts innovation at our doorstep while raising serious questions about the pitfalls of data-centric systems and ensuing risks.
This was just a sampling of some of the themes covered in the program. Speakers also covered data security, innovative business models, market volatility and new leadership strategies. Presentations from the event can be downloaded here; pictures are available for viewing here.
NMHC thanks all its sponsors, speakers and participants for contributing to another high-quality spring meeting in Chicago. We look forward to seeing everyone again in September in Washington, D.C., for the annual Fall Board of Directors andAdvisory Committee Meeting.