Asia's Future: A Conversation with Maurice R. Greenberg
Greenberg: Well, he’s different than any president we’ve ever had. His approach of America First—I can understand what he wants to achieve. I don’t agree with the way he is going about it. Obviously you can’t isolate yourself from the rest of the world. You have to try and influence the rest of the world but not threaten it. You have give and take; you can’t just take and not give. There is more to foreign policy many times than just a trade agreement. You have to have friends in the world that you are doing things with besides just trade.
Heilbrunn: Looking at Trump now, and the America First rhetoric, have we reached the end of the era of Republican internationalism that they symbolized, and have we now moved into a new and different phase?
Greenberg: I would hope that we haven’t. I think there is a residue of that—more than a residue—of people that understand that. I don’t think it is dead forever. I do not believe that.
Heilbrunn: It’s surprised many people that the Republicans are having as much trouble as they are given that they control all three branches of government.
Greenberg: They are. I am concerned that they will lose the House and maybe the Senate as well. You want to change Obamacare? Fine, but you can’t take everything away. You simply can’t. There is a lot to be done in health care. I’ve been on the board of New York–Presbyterian Hospital for years. I chaired it for a long time. I know what has to be done. Once a person is diagnosed with a disease in a hospital and a treatment is recommended, get them out of the hospital. There are all kinds of downsized facilities you can use at a fraction of the cost. Take the pressure off the emergency rooms as well. It’s crazy the way it is.
Heilbrunn: It is interesting: we spend the most and our results are not good. It all seems to get steeped in ideological disputes.
Greenberg: It is, and every state has different problems.
Heilbrunn: So on the optimism scale, one to ten, where are you?
Greenberg: I don’t lose faith in America. I mean, we have the right to speak out, and that is important. Some people listen in government. Hopefully in time more will listen. I haven’t lost faith in our country.
Heilbrunn: Well, we’ve clawed back out of every crisis that we’ve experienced, but we are in a crisis again, aren’t we?
Greenberg: Yes, we are.
Heilbrunn: To some extent it seems like an artificially inflicted crisis. Because we’re not in a Great Depression. We’re not mired in some catastrophic war abroad.
Greenberg: No, but the quality of life for many people hasn’t improved very much, and that is important. Creating more jobs, better jobs, is important. We are living in an era where machines are going to take over human jobs. We have to change our education system. They are creating more jobs in China than we are in the high-tech area.
Heilbrunn: So your worry, if I understand you correctly, is that the Chinese are more nimble and flexible than we are and adapting faster to new global realities.
Greenberg: Now they are—absolutely.
Heilbrunn: And if we don’t react, then that’s a death sentence for America as the leading power in the world?
Greenberg: That’s the endgame, no question about it. I am not saying we have to fight China; what I’m saying is we have to look in the mirror at what we are doing, what we are not doing and what we are capable of doing. China is learning a lot from us, and they want to buy into many areas that are open. They learn very quickly. I don’t deny them the right to do that—we want the same rights no matter where it may be. And we have to start talking with one voice, not many different voices.
Image: A paramilitary policeman stands guard in front of the giant portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at the main entrance of the Forbidden City in Beijing, October 28, 2013. Five people were killed and dozens injured on Monday, the government said, when a car ploughed into pedestrians and caught fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the site of 1989 pro-democracy protests bloodily suppressed by the military. The car crashed almost directly in front of the main entrance of the Forbidden City, where there hangs a huge portrait of the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.