Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 22, 2002|Volume 31, Number 12|Two-Week Issue














Ernesto Zedillo

Zedillo seeks to make globalization more 'inclusive'

Coming to the University this year to serve as director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization marked a homecoming of sorts for Ernesto Zedillo, who earned his Ph.D. in economics here in 1980.

As president of Mexico from 1994 until 2000, Zedillo earned international acclaim for helping to create a new era of democracy and economic stability in his country. His policy of economic discipline was accompanied by increased support for social programs as well.

Previously, Zedillo served as Mexico's undersecretary of the budget and a year later was named secretary of economic programming and the budget. In 1992, he became secretary of education and later launched a sweeping reform of the national basic education system. A well-regarded economist, Zedillo also served as deputy manager of economic research at Mexico's Central Bank.

Since leaving the presidency, Zedillo has chaired a United Nations panel on financing for development for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that released its report in June 2001. The report, which has come to be known as the Zedillo Report, played a critical role at the U.N.-sponsored international development conference in Monterey.

In addition to his other activities, Zedillo is a regular columnist for Forbes magazine. He met with the Yale Bulletin & Calendar recently to talk about his work and career. The following is an edited transcript of that discussion.

What made you decide to leave Mexico and come to the Yale Graduate School to study economics?

It was very unusual for students to come to the U.S. at that time; yet I was lucky enough to work in a Mexican government agency that had managed to recruit almost everyone in my country who had recently studied economics in the United States. All of them had advanced degrees from U.S. institutions. In addition, my boss and mentor, Mr. Leopoldo Solís, was a graduate of Yale. He recommended that I apply to several schools, but said that if I were ever admitted to this school, it should be my first choice.

I was admitted to Stanford, Minnesota, MIT and Yale. I came here because I was told it was the best. And I think it was.

What were your goals when you arrived in New Haven as a graduate student?

When I finished my undergraduate studies, I knew that I had much to learn before I could consider myself an economist. So my goal was simple: I wanted to say that when I finished my studies here that I was an economist -- not a good economist, at that point, just an economist. With a good Yale education and additional experience I thought it would be possible to eventually become a good economist. I am not sure whether I have gotten to that point yet.

Why did you choose to study economics?

I decided early in my life, when I was 15, that I wanted to study economics. At the time I was quite interested in law and considered pursuing that discipline. However, I also enjoyed mathematics and physics. Yet, for some reason, I concluded that economics was a good option.

I admit it was not a calculated decision. It is difficult to make serious, consistent decisions when you are 15 years old.

Do you still think choosing economics was a good idea?

Yes. In retrospect I think it was a good idea and that my intuition was correct.My economic background played a critical role during my political career. One of the most challenging problems I had as president of Mexico was the economy. When I became president in 1994, Mexico was on the brink of a major economic crisis. My knowledge, training and practical experience as an economist was fundamental in deciding the policies we used to confront the situation.

My knowledge and experience of economics was important not just to overcome the financial crisis, but to help design the policies that would help the Mexican economy to grow faster than it had been able to in a quarter of a century. We overcame the crisis, and the Mexican economy started to grow an average of close to 5%. In fact, the last year of my administration we went as high as almost 7%. I think that is related to the fact that I was able to understand the economics behind the problem.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had not had a background in economics. I think that the likelihood of having made mis-steps would have been much greater. We were walking on a razor's edge, and any mistake could have derailed our progress toward recovery. My case is one in which the prior profession truly helped the politician.

You were the first president of Mexico to ask members of the opposition party to join your cabinet. What made you choose that course?

The decision was not difficult because it was the logical thing to do at the time in Mexico. We had been going through a process of increasing political openness for several years. It was only natural to include individuals from other political parties. At least for a while it worked. In some cases the result was satisfactory and in others it was not. But I think that it was an important experience for the Mexican political system as a whole. I think it was a good exercise of democratic governing.

What was your greatest achievement as president of Mexico?

I usually do not answer that question. I leave that to others to think about.

Since leaving office in 2000 you have been dedicated to studying globalization. You have lectured on it and authored a United Nations report on globalization -- now known as the Zedillo Report. What were your findings?

The U.N. report focused on the financing for the development of the world's poorer countries. It stressed that globalization offers tremendous opportunities as well as challenges. Globalization has to be managed if we want it to be more inclusive. The primary responsibility lies within the developing countries themselves, in terms of providing for good governance, democratic institutions, the rule of law, economic discipline and the building of institutions that can pursue ambitious social policies. All these actions will help make globalization inclusive.

But the international community must also play an important role. There are two pillars of international cooperation. The first, free trade, is extremely important to support developing countries in their efforts. We also insist that it is crucial to have wealthy countries provide financial support for the poorer countries of the world, particularly to fight poverty. If they do so, we will find that globalization becomes more inclusive.

Globalization is a term charged with many meanings. How do you define globalization?

Many people define globalization only in terms of an economic or technological phenomenon. It is much more. Globalization is an increasing interdependence, an increasing interconnectedness that we have seen over the last 20 years across the globe. It is not only economic but has cultural, social and geopolitical dimensions as well. It is an unprecedented phenomenon. The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization is dedicated to examining the broader phenomenon.

Prior to becoming president of Mexico, you were the nation's minister of education, and you also taught for a few years. How has this experience affected your view of globalization?

Education is one of the key factors that can make globalization more inclusive. I think that the people who are not sharing in the opportunities offered by globalization are precisely those who have not had the opportunity to be trained, to be educated. People need to be supported in other aspects of their lives so that they can take advantage of educational opportunities and, later on, of the opportunities offered by globalization.

Why did you choose to accept the directorship of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization?

I have enormous affection for Yale. At this stage of my career I place a high value on being surrounded by the intellectual capital that makes the University such an exciting place. The independence and freedom to openly express my opinions was also an attractive prospect.

I am extremely grateful that President Levin has given me this opportunity. His generosity and dedication to making Yale a global institution were quite persuasive. I came to the conclusion it would be great to return to Yale, even if I had other opportunities elsewhere in the world.

What do you see as the center's mission?

Yale University has tremendous intellectual resources that in one way or another have been dedicated to examining the history, the economics and the culture of the world. The Center for the Study of Globalization can play an important catalyzing role so that at least part of the knowledge is applied to understanding the phenomenon of globalization. More importantly, I hope the center will provide ideas that will one day be useful in the policy arena. These policies will, I hope, make globalization more inclusive -- a more just phenomenon.

What are your specific goals for the center?

I envision getting involved on a few fronts. We want to stimulate everyday discussions that are essential to globalization. We want to be able to organize conferences and roundtables that produce analytical in-depth analysis of globalization that we can share with other national and international institutions.

We have already been active this semester. Just a few days after classes started we held our first roundtable on the recent Barcelona conference on HIV/AIDS. We followed that by hosting a conference on the outcome of the United Nations Johannesburg Sustainable Development conference.

We held a successful two-and-a-half day conference on Central Asia -- The Silk Road. One of the panels was a videoconference with presidents from three central Asian countries. I think it had quite positive results.

In addition, we hosted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; the controversial Bjorn Lomborg, better known as the "skeptical environmentalist"; Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the former U.N. commissioner for human rights; and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

For the rest of the semester we will have several roundtables and presentations in the works including a discussion on the Bush administration's national security strategy.

Next semester we intend to hold a major conference on social inclusion in globalization, and we are working on a workshop about U.S. official development assistance -- foreign aid. We want to set the record straight about the size and the allocation of that aid, because I think it is important to highlight it at this point.

How are you making the resources of the center available to Yale undergraduates?

Practically all of the activities we hold, one way or another, are designed to get the undergraduates' attention. Some of our activities are co-organized with student groups. This interaction is important because we have much to learn from the students. To date, every activity that we have held this semester has had very significant undergraduate attendance. I am very pleased at that.

In what other ways will you take advantage of the wealth of intellectual resources at Yale?

The center does not want to do anything alone. Every activity must be done with another entity of the University. We want to catalyze what already exists -- to stimulate those other Yale programs and direct their attention to the study of certain aspects of globalization. The center will only be successful if we have the support of the Yale faculty. So far we are getting very positive feedback.

How have Yale and New Haven changed since you were a student?

Fortunately, there have been no dramatic surprises. This continues to be one of the finest universities in the world. I was pleasantly surprised by the renovation that our buildings have undergone, including the fine work done on the Betts House [the former Davies Mansion, now home of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization]. I can tell you with all confidence that today the campus is even more beautiful than when I was a student here. It makes me proud.

New Haven has also seen a great improvement since I was a student. I have returned to find a city in the process of a renaissance. It is very encouraging.

As a graduate student, I spent most of my time at the library. My wife and I were also living on a very modest scholarship so we did not have much money to use it in any places. I am glad that now we are back in a different capacity and are getting a chance to become more acquainted with New Haven.

Was it difficult for your family to leave Mexico to come to New Haven?

My family is adapting. For my children, uprooting them has been quite an experience. This is the first time they have lived outside of Mexico City. They like the city but understandably they miss their home and friends in Mexico.

What have you enjoyed most since returning to campus?

I am enjoying everything. The most valuable aspect to being here is the contact with the great people who come to study, research and work at Yale. The people -- students and faculty -- are what I enjoy the most.

-- By John Longbrake


Trustee launches book club for city youths

Gilliss reappointed as dean of the School of Nursing

Fossil named in honor of Yale scientist

Zedillo seeks to make globalization more 'inclusive'

Grant supports Divinity School's participation in . . .

Gift boosts collaboration in plant research


In Focus: Yale Library

Olmos argues for more cultural pride but less racial division

Panel to explore relationship between media and . . .

Dr. Orvan Hess, who helped develop fetal heart monitor, dies at 96

Fun begets benefits for New Haven charities

Model Student

Yale Books in Brief

Bulletin Home|Visiting on Campus|Calendar of Events|In the News

Bulletin Board|Yale Scoreboard|Classified Ads|Search Archives|Deadlines

Bulletin Staff|Public Affairs Home|News Releases| E-Mail Us|Yale Home Page