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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2004 / 03 

Virginia Tech's first Rhodes Scholar delivers College of Science Lecture

March 18, 2004

Solving the problem of the disparity between rich and poor countries will be the subject of the Virginia Tech College of Science Second Annual Distinguished Speaker series April 1 at 4 p.m. in 1100 Torgersen Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Virginia Tech alumnus William W. Lewis Jr. will discuss his proposed answer to the problem as described in his book The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty and the Threat to Global Stability.

Lewis, a 1963 Virginia Tech graduate in physics, was the university's first Rhodes Scholar and went on to earn a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Oxford in 1966. He went on to hold positions with the Department of Defense, Princeton University, the University of California, the World Bank, and the Department of Energy. He was the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute of McKinsey and Company, one of the nation's most prestigious and influential management-consulting firms. He has published regularly in the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times.

The disparity between rich and poor countries is a serious problem that threatens global stability and resists attempts to cure the problem through the influx of money for development of technological infrastructures, educational systems, and health-care programs, Lewis said in The Power of Productivity. In his book, he provides powerful and controversial solutions to the problems. He draws on extensive microeconomic studies of 13 nations over 12 years conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute to counter virtually all prevailing wisdom about how best to ameliorate economic disparity. "It was only after studying India that I thought I had a global perspective that I could synthesize together into a book," he said.

"Contrary to popular belief," he said, "providing more capital to poor nations is not the primary way to help them out of the poverty trap. Neither is improving levels of education, exchange-rate flexibility, or government solvency. Rather, the key to reducing economic inequalities between rich and poor countries is productivity and its links to competition and consumption."

Lewis argues that the problem lies with the self-perpetuating cycle of profitable yet unproductive firms, government policies that protect those firms from competition, and consumers who are unaware of their own interests. He believes policies must be enacted to enhance productivity and encourage a consumption mindset and sense of consumer rights. Only consumer interests can stand up to producer special privileges, he said.

Lewis's radically different conclusions are based on data that did not focus on the macroeconomics of the impoverished countries as is usually done, but instead "worked from the ground up, studying everything from state-of-the-art auto markets to black-market street vendors and mom-and-pop stores." Lewis combined this approach with his years of experience with economic policy and came up with his compelling view of the global economy today. His book and his talk offer both diagnosis of the problems and solutions to them.

For further information, call 540-231-9542.