Steve Forbes: 'Big' Federal Spending Justified Amid Pandemic

Steve Forbes: 'Big' Federal Spending Justified Amid Pandemic
Steve Forbes (Business Forum)

Former presidential candidate and Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes spoke about federal pandemic aid, the need for fewer restrictions on it, business survival and market futures last week as part of a new webcast series presented by Arkansas Business.

The series’ host is author Jon Gordon, who has written on leadership, sales and teamwork. Gordon questioned Forbes on Wednesday during the inaugural 40-minute “21st Century Business Forum” webcast.

“A big spending program by the federal government is absolutely in order as if it was fighting a major war, as we did with World War II, saving civilization,” Forbes told Gordon. “So one more round of checks individuals — even though I'm a conservative — I would support that and some other measures.” 

Forbes said he'd like to see fewer “arbitrary” restrictions on federal aid programs, such as those on the Paycheck Protection Program that dictate how much of the forgivable loans a business can spend on payroll. He said many businesses have other costs, such as rent, that are equal to or exceed payroll costs. He also criticized the Federal Reserve’s “manipulation” of interest rates and certain state governments he believes have been “hostile” to certain industries.

Federal aid, Forbes said, shouldn’t be used to “bail out states that have mismanaged their finances or [for] giveaways” to nonprofits. He cited gains Republicans made in the November election — minus the White House and the Senate — that could allow them some check on Democrats’ plans.  

“So make it a good package, and with Republicans doing as well — we didn't keep the White House — but doing as well as they did at other levels, hopefully, we have leverage to make sure we get a real relief bill, instead of a political giveaway,” he said.

Forbes said businesses that want to survive and thrive, like Forbes did as the media industry was roiled by digital disruption, must respond quickly to change, diversify their revenue streams and not be caught doing what they’ve always done.

For example, he said, Forbes separated from the print publication because they were different mediums. The two operated from a separate building with a separate staff doing separate reporting.

“So was allowed to grow on its own,” he said. “Another thing we did was we didn't just have the content depend on Forbes magazine; we went to outside sources for content. And that was a breakthrough that even today a lot of print companies don't realize to do that. About 99% of the content on today is not from Forbes magazine, but from outside contributors.”

Forbes said print represents less than 10% of Forbes’ revenue now. Advertising makes up 60% to 70% of revenue, but that percentage is declining because the company has sought partnership, projects, events and other revenue-generating activities. 

“The world is constantly changing and you have to change with it, remembering what it is you're trying to do ultimately,” he said. 

Forbes said markets are going to be “choppy” in the short term because of all the uncertainties out there. But he said investors should keep emotions in check and recognize when they’re wrong so that they can cut their losses.

“Ultimately, I see signs we're starting to get things right, even though we had some results in the election that I wasn't particularly pleased with, but there are some good stirrings in the country,” he said.

Specifically, Forbes sees health care, which he said makes up about 18% of the U.S. economy, undergoing positive change in the near future. 

“I think in the whole health care industry and the delivery of health care, I think we're going to finally see in the next decade what sounds today like a utopia: more health care, better health care, at less cost,” he said, though he noted his support of a private — or “patient controlled” as he likes to call it — health care system, which is not what the country has.

The next “21st Century Business Forum” is scheduled for Feb. 10 and features John Maxwell, an author and pastor whose books include “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” and “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.”

You can register for the free webcast at