Debt must be reduced before economy can recover, ex-Citigroup exec says

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 9 2011 5:29 p.m. MST

Former Citigroup chief financial officer Gary Crittenden speaks to an audience of business leaders during a luncheon Wednesday hosted by Zions Bank. Crittenden discussed the state of the country economic recovery.

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SALT LAKE CITY — To progress further out of the economic recession will require collaboration between government, regulators and banks, according to the former chief financial officer of one of the nation's largest financial institutions.

"The more quickly that we are able to stabilize and reduce our debt, the more quickly we will see recovery happen," Gary Crittenden told about 200 local business leaders Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by Zions Bank.

Crittenden, who served as the chief financial officer of Citigroup from 2007 to 2009, was responsible for the financial leadership of Citigroup during the global economic crisis.

He was also CFO of American Express from 2000 to 2007, as well as CFO of Monsanto and Sears, Roebuck and Co. prior to that. Currently, he is managing director of Huntsman Gay Global Capital, a private equity firm headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

The title of his presentation was “In Search of Economic Recovery: Where is Adam Smith When You Really Need Him?”

Until government, individuals and businesses stabilize their debt, there will not be significant economic growth, he said.

"Cooperation between the public sector and the private sector and between the political parties is imperative given the complexity of the situation," Crittenden said. "Dogmatic views on either side of the problem won't solve it."

Government spending has to go down and taxes have to go up, he said.

"Businesses and individuals have to be allowed to fail financially and the federal government needs to be involved in systemically important situations in ways that protect the economy and benefit the taxpayer," he added.

Among the suggestions mentioned during his presentation were increasing the retirement age, conducting means testing for Medicare, reducing military spending in Europe and Asia and broadening the tax base by simplifying the tax code and reducing income tax rates. Doing so would help address some of the important financial challenges that the nation currently faces.

Crittenden said civic leaders "have an obligation to get this economy moving again."

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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