Gordon Brown: I think the big challenge will be to recognize that together, America, Britain, and the rest of Europe can cooperate successfully to deal with global problems that demand global solutions. I think we have to look at the world after the financial crisis in a different way. At the moment, we’ve got global issues for which too many of us are attempting strictly national solutions.
Countries like Britain and America can work together on common international objectives like securing peace, jobs, prosperity, and climate change. We should, for instance, reshape the international institutions that were built in the 1940s to meet the challenge we face in 2010.
The British-American relationship is incredibly important. It is built not only on common, and sometimes diverging, history, but also on an alliance of values. It is built on our belief in liberty, democracy, and equality of opportunity. Mobilized for the cause of tackling these global problems, it could make a huge difference.
HPR: This is an issue which you address in your upcoming book.
GB: Since the financial crisis, I’ve been more aware that the G8 wasn’t big enough to deal with the situation and needed to become the G20. At some point, the G20 will have to take in other countries because the world and its economy are changing all the time.
The important thing to recognize is that we attempted to find a global solution to the financial crisis. In 1933, the World Economic Conference held in London broke down, Roosevelt went home, and trade protectionism characterized the rest of the ’30s. Today, our intention has been to reinflate the world economy, to deal with fundamental problems like the banking system, and to try to build the conditions in which growth can happen.
We’re sort of halfway there; there’s a long way to go. We’re not through this crisis by any means. Therefore, we will need that commitment to global cooperation to see us through to the next stage.
HPR: You studied history. How has that influenced your way of viewing the world and your leadership style when you were Prime Minister?
GB: I come from the town where the economist Adam Smith was born. If you visit the town where I grew up, you’d see a town that was formerly dependent on industry. But as that industry started to die, I was very much influenced by the need to create jobs and replace lost industries so that we could have a community with a more prosperous future.
I did study history, but I also studied economics. I feel that we’ve learned quite a lot as a result of this financial crisis, which is similar to the 1930s but different in the sense that it is now global in scale. My historical background has helped, but I think my reading of the purpose of economics is even more important. If an economy can’t create jobs and can’t give people the chance at opportunity, for a decent standard of living, then anything you say about statistics and theory is secondary.
I’ve learned that it’s very important to think about what could be the best road to full employment and high growth. These are the big questions that I think you have to ask through history. Through better economics you can produce better results.
HPR: If you could give one word of advice to Harvard students on any matter, what would it be?
GB: See the world and be a part of it. This is the most international of universities, with a huge commitment to public service. Public service is ingrained in the history of this university. People go out from Harvard and change the world.
Just as you have thousands of students who come to Harvard from other parts of the world, so too can thousands of students from Harvard make a difference by realizing that they’re the first generation that can look forward to a global society. That’s never been possible before; the ability to communicate globally through modern means of communication like the Internet is unprecedented. It is possible to conceive in our lifetimes of a global society with institutions that could actually bring people together. This great international university and its students have a big role to play.
Felix de Rosen ’13 is a Staff Writer.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons