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On October 19, 2020, TFN presented the second episode of TFN Touchpoint – a virtual series hosted by award-winning journalist, New York Times best-selling author, and co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” David Faber, A85, A24P. During the series, Faber interviews professionals and experts to gather their perspectives on contemporary themes in business, finance, and the global economy.

Bringing together Tufts alumni, parents, and friends from around the world, the second Touchpoint focused on the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the economy. Faber interviewed three distinguished guests in 15-minute segments on a range of related topics. The panel convened at the end to take questions from the audience. Featured guests (in order of appearance) included:

  • Doug Harris, A81, Tufts University Trustee and CEO, the Kaleidoscope Group
  • Gilbert E. Metcalf, John DiBiaggio Professor of Citizenship and Public Service, Professor of Economics, Tufts University
  • Sue Decker, J84, A19P, CEO and Founder, Raftr

How Corporate America Responds to Societal Challenges

With the rise of Black Lives Matter, many corporations have become increasingly vocal about their moral obligations toward society. Together, Faber and Doug Harris examined companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in a wide-ranging discussion focused on board development, executive leadership, and recruitment.

Harris described significant external pressure on companies ranging from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to McDonalds but emphasized that the desire to change must come from within. Still, he is optimistic.

“I think people are looking for action and change at a level that hasn’t been there before. There’s a lot of momentum; a lot of motion; and a lot of passion.” And as a result, Harris notes, a lot of strategy, adding that one of the driving forces of change that he finds most exciting is the shift in who is engaging in DEI work and the potential for long-term growth as a result.

The State of the Pre-Election Economy

Faber and Gib Metcalf kicked off their interview on the U.S. economy by discussing the potential for a new aid package. Metcalf regarded one as critical, noting that at the time of recording, GDP had fallen by 8% in the third quarter, representing a more than 30% annual decline should it continue to drop at the same rate. He credits the CARES Act with playing a crucial role in preventing further economic destruction.

They subsequently unpacked the idea of “two economies,” explaining how big retail and tech companies have come out ahead while small and medium businesses suffer. At the individual level, Metcalf noted that “low-income households continue to spend because they have to, but upper-income households have largely cut back on their spending.” While jobs held by those in the highest quartile of earners have largely bounced back, those in the lowest quartile remain down 20%, furthering wealth inequality.

They closed their conversation with a focus on the U.S. deficit, the importance of a new stimulus package, and the likelihood of an infrastructure bill under a Biden administration.

The Global Economy

Businesswoman and entrepreneur Sue Decker offered a glimpse into Raftr, a social networking, event and communications platform for college campuses that she co-founded and then piloted at Tufts in 2017. She also shared her experiences as a board member at Berkshire Hathaway, Costco, and Vail Resorts, and stressed that each company has been impacted differently by the pandemic.

Sue describes Costco as in “an economy by itself,” crediting its success, in part, to the company’s early adoption of social distancing in its warehouses and stores. Similarly, Vail Resorts is in the process of implementing reservations with priority for season pass holders. Berkshire Hathaway has seen gains in its regulated holdings, including energy, insurance, and transportation, with some offsets from consumer companies impacted by the closure of malls around the country. Reminding viewers that “even though revenue is down for many companies, so is cost,” she cited low interest rates and the potential for a vaccine as reasons to remain optimistic.

To watch this episode of TFN Touchpoint in its entirety, click here.