Ask most finance experts about the “world’s largest financial institutions,” and you’ll hear names like Citigroup, ICBC (China’s largest bank) and HSBC. However, governments top the list of large financial institutions, with investment and insurance operations that dwarf those of any private enterprise. For instance, last year the U.S. federal government made almost all student loans and backed over 97% of newly originated mortgages. Add to that Uncle Sam’s lending activities for agriculture, small business, energy and trade, plus its provision of insurance for private pensions and deposits, and you’ll discover it’s an $18-trillion financial institution. By comparison, JP Morgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, had assets totaling about $2.4 trillion.
While government practices differ across countries, the basic story is much the same everywhere. As the world’s largest and most interconnected financial institutions — and through their activities as rule-makers and regulators — governments have an enormous influence on the allocation of capital and risk in society. And as financial actors they are confronted with the same critical issues as their private-sector peers: How should a government assess its cost of capital? How should its financial activities be accounted for? What are the systemic and macroeconomic effects? Are the institutions well-managed? Are its financial products well-designed?
Labor Day traditions call for celebrating worker struggles of the past that helped produce better working conditions for all. This year we have a bona fide case in our backyard that may just usher in a new era of workplace dynamics that future labor commentators will herald.
Today’s workforce, young and old, executive and front line employees alike, want to identify with the mission of their workplace—whether it is serving customers well and providing value for scarce dollars, improving the quality of care to vulnerable patients, inspiring and educating children to reach their full potential, or creating and producing goods that help sustain the planet. When united in a cause people believe in and experience the pride and material benefits of a job well done, a deep culture of shared ownership inevitably develops. When combined with leaders who reinforce by word and actions the importance of teamwork, compassion when personal or family misfortunes arise, and a willingness to respond to community needs, the power of talented, motivated individuals multiplies into social capital no traditional competitor can match.
Thomas Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, a Professor of Work and Employment Research and Engineering Systems, and the Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Director of MIT Sloan’s Office of International Programs Stuart Krusell
What do the economies of Latin America and China have in common? They are both extremely interdependent on the other for growth.
China purchases a significant percentage of raw materials from Latin America, which are used in the manufacturing of goods. Many of those goods are then sold back to Latin America. This cycle has increased over the last decade, as China’s trade with the region has surged more than 20-fold since 2000. So while they are competitors, they also are trade partners. It’s a slice of globalization that is representative of the larger world.
China and Latin America’s relationship becomes even more intriguing when you consider the geo-political environments of both regions. What is the impact of Brazil’s elections on its trade partnership? Populist rhetoric to keep jobs local and not to be so dependent on China is appealing to many, but what happens to the region’s economy if trade with China decreases? Further, how do the corruption investigations in China impact trade? If China’s GDP is affected, it could mean the country is buying fewer natural resources from Latin America.
A lot of attention has been paid lately to big tech companies buying up smaller firms in billion-dollar deals: In January, Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion, Facebook purchased mobile message service, WhatsApp, the following month for $19 billion; last week, it acquired virtual reality gaming company, Oculus VR, for $2 billion. There is a lot of discussion about the motives behind these large deals. Some say they are attempts to block competition, while others maintain they are efforts to stay relevant.
I see these deals as a reflection of the uncertainty companies face as they try to identify the next big thing. This is especially true for successful companies like Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG), which are known for doing what they do tremendously well. They’ve seen similarly successful companies like Kodak struggle as technology moves on, rendering its product obsolete. As a result, companies today are eternally motivated to look outside their current business.
Higher education has hit a wall — particularly the business school. Four issues are upending higher education as it is constituted today:
It is overpriced: While the cost of higher education has skyrocketed, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have emerged as a game changer, opening doors to an unparalleled democratization of higher education. The marginal costs of online learning are basically zero. And yes, in spite of huge enrollment numbers (often 50,000-80,000 students per class), MOOCs have not yet been able to fully deliver on their high- flying promises. Critics often point to course completion rates–often as little as 5% of the enrollees complete a course–a sign that MOOCs are still evolving.
It is out of touch with the changing market: The old model of higher education worked for a remarkably long period, although not for everyone. Students invested in the pursuit of a career path that almost guaranteed a good income, which then enabled them to swiftly pay back their college loans. Those years are gone. With many industries having moved from the United States to Asia, and with increasing automation in manufacturing and management, many formerly well-paying middle-class jobs no longer exist; they have been replaced by service sector jobs that do not even pay a living wage.
The curriculum is outdated: The intellectual and methodological foundation of business schools is thoroughly outdated. Lectures as a teaching method have been around for more than 2,000 years, and the Harvard case study method for more than 140 years; and yet, they still account for most of what is going on in B-schools today. But what’s worse is that the core curriculum–based on current mainstream economic and management thought–equips students with a mental framework that amplifies our global ecological and socio-economic crises instead of helping to solve them.