May 24, 2017

Remarks by Penny Pritzker at the Global Leadership Awards Dinner

Remarks by Penny Pritzker
Former US Secretary of Commerce and Chairman of PSP Capital Partners
Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Global Leadership Awards Dinner
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Four Seasons Hotel
Chicago, Illinois


Good evening everyone! Thank you very much—for this honor, and for this wonderful welcome. It is quite nice to be here tonight. I have been in Asia for the better part of the last 10 days and just landed a few hours ago. Did I miss anything while I was gone? 

In all seriousness, while it was the privilege of a lifetime to serve as the Secretary of Commerce, it really is great to be back home in Chicago. For the first time in three years, I get to live in the same city as my husband, Bryan. Instead of motorcades, I am now Uber’s best customer. 

I can take long runs along the lakefront. I am reconnecting with friends, many of whom are here tonight. And like many of you, I am looking forward to another Cubs World Series win.

John Manley, thank you for your kind introduction and to you and Mary for serving as our hosts. To Ivo—you served with distinction as our NATO ambassador. And as President of the Council you have been a wonderful addition to our community. I want to thank Glenn Tilton; Lester Crown; members of the board, including my cousin Margot; and tonight’s chairs—Craig Duchossois and my good friends Leah Zell and Bill Daley.

To everyone at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, you are an unwavering voice for active American leadership. You promote civil discourse—and I think we can all agree that our nation needs that civility now more than ever. The Council also helps bring the world to this city that we all love. We thank you for enlightening us and enriching us.

To my fellow honoree and friend, Michael Moskow…you have devoted yourself to creating opportunity for the American people and to strengthening civic life here in Chicago. And as someone who has gone through the confirmation process myself—once—I think we should all admire Michael’s capacity to survive Senate confirmation five times.

It was an honor to serve under President Obama to help advance an economic vision focused on expanding growth and opportunity for all Americans. While in government, I resigned from every one of our businesses and I complied, fully, with the rules of the Office of Government Ethics. Now that I am home, I am doing something I love—building businesses and organizations. Through our foundation, Bryan and I are continuing to invest in our city and its people. And I plan to continue to be a voice on issues that I care about.

Which brings me to this evening. I stand here tonight deeply concerned that the policies being advanced by the current administration will undermine our nation’s economic growth and long-term competitiveness. Think about the transformations taking place across our economy. Automation, globalization and digitization have been a net benefit for our country. But these forces have also cost – and will continue to cost – many Americans their jobs.

When I reflect on these changes, I think of a man named Tom who I met in Ohio. For more than 20 years, he worked at US Steel at a highly automated plant—and he was good at his job. But, in part because of China’s dumping of massive amounts of steel on the world market, the company had to downsize, and Tom lost his job. He found new work at a light-manufacturing plant. But instead of earning $26 an hour, now he is earning less than half of that. Tom and his wife—a bank teller—are now struggling to support their three children and pay their mortgage.

I know that Americans are resilient. At the same time, for too many Americans like Tom, a changing economy has upended their lives. They are right to be angry, afraid and anxious about the future. As a nation, we need a policy agenda that helps all of us – workers, businesses, and communities -- adapt to these larger economic forces.

But “adapting” cannot mean seeing your paycheck cut in half with no bridge to better prospects. Nor can it mean that American businesses are confined to competing only in the United States. That is why I believe that the impact of rapid globalization, digitization, and automation on American workers and American businesses is the defining economic challenge we face as a nation. Simply put, we must both ensure that our businesses are able to access markets around the world and that our people have the training and skills needed to thrive as our economic paradigm shifts.

In this past election, perhaps the one thing that Democratic and Republican voters seemed to agree on was that policymakers either need to address this challenge or prepare for voters to upend the global economic order as we know it. 

Now, I am not a politician. Like many of you here tonight, I am a business person. And I know that to be a good leader you must have a strategic plan to compete and win. You can’t wing it. But when I look at the current administration, I do not see them laying a foundation that opens doors broadly for our businesses, trains our workforce, or sustainably addresses the economic anxieties of our people.

In fact, I am very worried about the real-world costs of these policies for our nation and our people. There’s the cost of the ban on travel from six predominately Muslim nations. It is currently blocked by the courts, but just imagine if it went into effect. According to one study, the ban is estimated to have a cost to our economy of anywhere from $35 billion to $71 billion every year.

More broadly, the Administration seems determined to move ahead with a form of “extreme vetting”—demanding that tens of thousands of applicants for US visas turn over intrusive personal information. What an awful message to send to people around the world. Last year, we welcomed more than one million foreign students to the US—students who help sustain more than 370,000 American jobs and pump more than $30 billion into our economy each year. But this spring, nearly 40 percent of US colleges say they are already seeing a drop in foreign student applications.

Likewise, the roughly 75 million foreign travelers and tourists we welcomed to the US last year spent nearly $250 billion on US goods and services and helped support more than one million American jobs.

But according to one estimate, the Administration’s policies could scare away more than four million visitors this year alone, costing our economy more than $7 billion in lost revenue. I also fear a loss that is harder to quantify but equally profound—the lost opportunity to build greater ties of friendship and to share our values—with people from all over the world, which is something we should be doing more of, not less.

Then there are the potential costs of the Administration’s immigration policies. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that just building a wall could cost nearly $22 billion. Well, it’s pretty clear that Mexico is not going to pay for a border wall. And if you look at the recent budget deal, Congress doesn’t seem very interested in paying for it either. And as for deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, one study found that, over a decade, it would cost the federal government nearly $900 billion in lost revenue; devastate sectors like agriculture and construction; and reduce Gross Domestic Product by $4.7 trillion.

I believe we need to remember the economic benefits of immigration.  America has thrived in part because we’ve welcomed immigrants. I am all too aware that I am only here because this city welcomed my Russian great-grandfather in 1881. I am sure many of you in this room have a similar story.

And let’s not forget that nearly half of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children. For many cities and communities—like Chicago—refugees have been an economic boon because so many of them are hard-working entrepreneurs who start and succeed in their own businesses. So immigrants and refugees don’t threaten America, they help renew us. 

Or consider the costs of the Administration’s approach to trade. The president and his team are fixated on reversing our trade deficits.  It has become an obsession—one that is fundamentally misplaced. Indeed, any economist will tell you that trade deficits are not a good measure of the strength of an economy, and they are an even worse measure of whether a trade agreement is working.

What really concerns me is the time being wasted trying to fix our trade deficits. Rather than working with partners and allies to open new markets for American businesses and workers, the Administration seems to be spending its time looking for ways to raise new barriers. Remember, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders. If we want access to those consumers—and the American jobs that depend on that access—we need to convince foreign governments to lower barriers, not raise them. That is what trade agreements do. They are the tool we use to shape the forces of globalization. But deals cannot only be “America First.”  They have to benefit our partners, too. When it comes to trade, that is the real art of the deal.

Finally, consider the cost of failing to lead in the fight against climate change. One study from a non-partisan group of American business leaders found that rising seas could lead to more than $500 billion in property losses alone in the US in this century. That does not even include the costs of future losses from crop damage, extreme heat and diseases, like asthma.

Moreover, there is an opportunity cost of not embracing and investing in clean energy. In the United States, the solar and wind industries are now creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. Here in Illinois, clean energy helps support around 100,000 jobs. In the world’s emerging markets, between now and 2030, the Paris Agreement is expected to create nearly $23 trillion in investment opportunities in clean energy. So fighting climate change is not only the right thing to do for our planet and for our children, it is good business—and if America wants to be competitive in the 21st Century, we need be competitive in fast-growing clean energy markets. 

Taken together, the policies I have described could potentially cost our nation trillions of dollars – costs that will far exceed any perceived benefits. We risk shooting ourselves in the foot. What is needed, urgently, is a coherent strategy and long-term vision to ensure that we’re prepared to compete and win in the global economy: An education and workforce training system that truly prepares our people—of all ages—with the skills to succeed in a digital world; trade that opens new markets to American companies and workers; a commitment to innovation and to investing in the jobs and industries of the future—especially clean energy; and, perhaps most of all, a vision that sees the world as not just a source of threats, but as a place of enormous opportunities for more partnerships, more cooperation and more growth.

In closing, I simply want to make an appeal to each of you. As citizens—and as leaders in our communities—we have a collective responsibility: to speak out and focus on solutions that actually deliver results for our country over the long term; to convey the costs and consequences of different policy choices; and to advance a vision that creates opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. That will be my work in the days and years ahead. And I look forward to being your partner.

Again, thank you for this honor. I am excited to be home! And go Cubs!


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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