In a wide-ranging discussion about U.S. economic and financial policies, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told an audience at UCLA to expect new sanctions against Russia in the next 30 days and shared one of his biggest worries.
“Cyber is a real issue,” said Mnuchin, who was on campus Feb. 26 to deliver the Arnold C. Harberger Distinguished Lecture on Economic Development, which is sponsored by the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. “It’s something that we’re spending a lot of time on to make sure the financial infrastructure is protected from cyberattacks.”
Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, introduced Mnuchin, listing some of his professional accomplishments, which also included serving on the board of the UCLA Health System and as a member of the UCLA Anderson investment management forum. Monday’s event, which was interrupted several times by audience demonstrators, was held in front of about 400 people in a nearly full Korn Convocation Hall.
A short opening speech by Mnuchin was followed by a 30-minute Q&A conducted by Kai Ryssdal, host of “Marketplace” on American Public Media. Following the conversation with Ryssdal, members of the audience could ask questions, one of which was about why the administration was not enforcing economic sanctions against Russia.
“We manage these things so I can tell you … you can expect sanctions will be coming in the next 30 days,” Mnuchin said. “It’s a very complicated process but I can assure you that in Treasury, because we are responsible for this, we are enforcing all the existing sanctions and putting more in place.”
During the hour that Mnuchin was on stage, he answered questions about U.S. participation in international trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement and about the recently passed tax bill. He also explained why he thought the Dodd-Frank regulations on banks and financial institutions should be loosened.
Mnuchin said the United States would pull out of NAFTA unless there were updates to the agreement. When Ryssdal asked what types of changes the U.S. is seeking, Mnuchin declined to provide specifics but said more balanced trade and protection of intellectual property were priorities.
In defending the tax cuts — which reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, temporarily cut rates for individuals and repealed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate — Mnuchin said they would not increase the deficit because economic growth would pay for them.
Ryssdal pointed out that those growth projections are based on 3 percent annual economic growth. “The catch of course is … as you know you did have two quarters of 3 percent economic growth this past year, but year-over-year growth in the American economy was 2.3 percent, so you’re still far away from target right?” said Ryssdal. Mnuchin agreed and responded that economic models used by the treasury department show that tax cuts combined with new trade policies and changing financial regulations would lead to growth.
“You look at all the research and all the research has an increase — it may not be at 3 percent — but all the research has increases significantly,” Mnuchin said.
In his opening remarks, Kal Raustiala, director of the Burkle Center and professor in the UCLA School of Law, said that while he personally disagrees with many of the Trump Administration’s policies, universities need to welcome diverse speakers and their ideas, including those ideas people may strongly oppose.
“I … believe that’s all the more reason why it’s important and essential that we as one of the world’s finest universities in one of the most liberal states in the nation make sure that we respectfully invite and engage and debate those policies,” Raustiala said. “That’s why I invited Secretary Mnuchin here today.”