Capping off a week when the Clinton Global Initiative raised $8 million, former President Bill Clinton spent the evening of Sept. 28 at the 92nd Street Y kicking off a new speaker series, “The Business of Giving in the 21st Century.” Proceeds from the initiative’s annual meeting will go toward projects helping up to 150 million people worldwide.
The Y’s program was introduced by Marc Lasry, a longtime Clinton donor, initiative board member and board member at the Y. Lasry and his wife Cathy underwrote the appearance.
Clinton was interviewed by Matthew Bishop, a writer for The Economist magazine and co-author of the recently released Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, with Michael Green.
Though the intersection between philanthropy and capitalism was the main topic of the evening, Bishop began by asking Clinton for his thoughts on the current economic crisis and the efforts by the Bush administration and Congress to mitigate the problems.
Clinton approved of the federal bailout in the form it had taken by that evening, though he added that the government had few options at this point because the financial crisis had been ignored for so long.
“Now we’ve got to save the system and start real growth again,” he said.
He pointed out that whoever wins the presidential election, campaign promises will need to be scaled back in the face of a worsening economy and mounting deficit, heightening the need for philanthropists.
“If the government is not going to be able to spend some of what it might have spent,” Clinton said, “then it’s going to be more important than ever that the rest of us step into the breach.”
One important area of need, he said, was biomedical research. He noted that though autism rates have tripled in the last 15 years, no one knows why or what to do about it, and private donors can help fund efforts which government cannot or will not assist.
When asked about presidential politics, Clinton said he believes Sen. Barack Obama will and should win on Nov. 4. He also admitted that while believed his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, would have made a great president, he knows that he would not have been able to spend as much time in philanthropy had she been in the White House.
Now that he is out of politics, he said he believes his current occupation in philanthropy is the only thing that makes sense for him.
“You don’t really need anything, you don’t really want anything, except to be useful,” he said of his post-presidency activities. Referring to why that led him to launch the Clinton Global Initiative, he said, “I think I would be a real schmuck if I didn’t do it-it would be unconscionable. And because it’s fun.”
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