Blackstone Group’s Steve Schwarzman said he skipped his morning workout today to participate in a discussion on the economy at Lincoln Center.
But a workout is what the U.S. needs, he suggested.
“We’re like a first-class athlete who stopped training and stopped playing and ate a lot,” Schwarzman said. “They don’t put you back in the game when you look like that.”
Schwarzman spoke at the David Rubenstein Atrium, joined by Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group, and NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who moderated. The event was the first in what Lincoln Center is billing as a “spoken word breakfast series.”
One of Schwarzman’s suggestions for getting the country in shape: “a sensible” immigration policy.
“Why in the world would we educate people from abroad and ask them to leave?” Schwarzman said. “We have a lot of self-destructive things that we can correct.”
Another Schwarzman suggestion: overhaul taxes. “Two brackets, and you get rid of deductions,” he said. “It becomes so simple you can sell it politically. I usually like to try to do easy deals, because they’re hard enough.”
Regarding the dismal state of the housing market, Schwarzman proposed “changing the rules to refinance to where mortgages should be,” he said.
“If you bite a bullet on that, and it’s not the biggest amount of money in the world, that’s the way you build a base to start building this economy again.”
Citing the success of Apple, Schwarzman said that growth in the U.S. economy will come from new ideas.
“We’re basically a knowledge economy and we’re very creative in terms of solving problems of all types,” Schwarzman said. “We can keep inventing things. That’s our future if we choose to seize it.”
‘We’re Not Creating Wealth’
Finally, on the topic of philanthropy, Schwarzman sounded a dire warning.
“Right now there’s still enough people of wealth who are still funding these organizations,” Schwarzman said. “This is a temporary situation. In a society where we’re not creating wealth -- where we’re eating our own seed corn -- we’re in trouble. The next generation will not have the money to support these organizations in the style we’ve all become accustomed to.”
Rubenstein, who led Lincoln Center’s recent capital campaign, described some of his talking points when he asks people to give money.
“No. 1, when you give money, you feel better about yourself and you will live longer,” he said.
His second point is that “not every gift is going to be perfect, but you never know, it just might work.”
Third, he said, “we don’t know if there’s a heaven, but why take a chance?”
The event began with a 30-minute power breakfast (Greek yogurt, homemade granola and bagels), which Schwarzman and Rubenstein skipped to have their makeup done (the discussion was taped for broadcast on WNET.)
About 80 guests attended, including Blackstone’s Byron Wien, Centerview Partners’ Blair Effron and Pershing Square Capital Management’s Bill Ackman.
“Any chance you can get to hear these guys talk is great,” said Michael Hinckley, an associate at General Atlantic, who’d set his alarm for 4:45 a.m. to get to the gym, but wound up sleeping later.
Two other breakfasts are scheduled in the series: Blair Effron and Greg Fleming of Morgan Stanley will speak Oct. 12; Peter Orszag of Citigroup and Ruth Porat of Morgan Stanley will speak Nov. 16.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)