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On April 5, 2000, President Clinton convened a group “of 130 of the nation’s best economic minds” for a daylong summit at the White House. Designed with political purpose in mind, it was, nonetheless, an opportunity for the President to do what he loves most of all—indulge in policy debate. He did, indeed, hold his own with some of the very best.

As the first speaker of the day, Abby Joseph Cohen used the opportunity to set the framework—outlining her view that education is the greatest challenge in realizing the promise of the new economy.

Seeking to calm the market, which had undergone wild gyrations on the previous day, Alan Greenspan took a (cautiously) bullish stance, predicting that newly emergent infrastructure technology will continue to fuel productivity growth. However, he emphasized that government had to play its role by fostering wise monetary, fiscal, trade, and education policies.

When President Clinton asked Amartya Sen (the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics) what he would do if he had $2-3 billion to spend on closing the global divide, he responded without hesitation, “The same thing that I did with my Nobel prize money—spend it to educate girls in developing nations. It’s the single most important thing we can do.”

Seated between Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, Mirai Chattererjee (the secretary of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India) gave the audience goose bumps when she said, “My being here today is testimony to what can happen when some of the poorest women on earth organize.”

Bill Gates impressed the crowd just by being there, given the beating he is taking from another arm of the U.S. government. His discussion of the work of his foundation and its primary focus on ensuring that all the world’s children receive vaccinations was moving. President Clinton asked how the Office of the President could encourage others to follow his lead. And Bill Gates, smart as he is, responded, “I don’t know.”

President Clinton asserted (more than once) that “Every problem in the American education system has been solved somewhere. The problem is that we haven’t figured out how to replicate it.”

Lunch, served in the State Dining Room, was spectacular. Alas, this reporter had to severely limit intake...An afternoon nap in the midst of this crowd would have been in extremely poor form.

—Laurie Bassi, reporting for LiNE Zine

 

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