Seth Klarman and the Threat to American Democracy

Democracy is under attack, yet many Americans fail to see the threat, according to Seth Klarman. Leadership must come from the business community to respond to this challenge.

Klarman is the founder and CEO of the Baupost Group, a Boston-based private investment manager. He spoke on October 4 at the Harvard Business School as part of its Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society (BiGS) initiative. The event was at Klarman Hall, a building made possible by his donations, and he was interviewed by Debora Spar, an HBS dean and professor.

Our society is broken in many ways, he said, for example with its failure to tackle climate change, immigration, gay rights, and voting reform. It is a “strange, sad time” for Americans, Klarman said, when well-established science is often discredited.

Politicians are following, not leading, offering excuses to respond to what their base wants. But business leaders see challenges on the front lines. If politicians won’t lead, he said, then the burden falls on business leaders.

Businesspeople are uniquely qualified because of their problem-solving skills. Klarman said he would have liked an “actual” businessperson to play a leadership role. “But unfortunately, we didn’t get that.”