Rod Hills: Servant To His Country And The World

Rod Hills
Rod Hills was a Chairman of the SEC and an adviser during the Ford Administration.

Rod Hills, an American Internationalist of the first order, died last week.  Rod was an early leader in the fight against corruption, pioneering anti-bribery work in the 1970s as Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the Ford Administration.  Rod’s early and on-going contribution to reducing corruption helped to bring about a global anti-corruption movement. His efforts led to changes in the understanding of the pernicious costs of corruption, and helped drive dozens of other governments and thousands of companies to change their codes of conduct.  Societal corruption is now among the top three issues for 77 countries polled by the World Economic Forum.

Rod’s career as a prominent lawyer, corruption fighter, and a former senior executive in government gave him a profound understanding of the related field of good governance.  Again, Rod was an early adopter and proponent of the concepts of good governance, including rule of law, transparent government, effective civil societies, and of course, clear rules of the game for private enterprise to invest, hire people, and bring about prosperity.  He gave generously to the organization that I belong to—CSIS—and started the Hills Program on Governance run by my friend Gerry Hyman.

He had a deep belief in private enterprise—not in such a way as to deify the role of the private sector— but, he understood that the private sector creating 9 out of 10 jobs in the developing world meant that governments had important roles to play in providing and administering certain public goods in clean, effective transparent ways, but also in encouraging companies to form, take risks and innovate.  He was a proponent of a private sector-led US health care reform, often saying, “the private sector and conservatives must understand the need for universal coverage, and the left and ‘health care advocates’ need to understand that private enterprise ought to play the central role.”

 Rod had a vision of the world with the United States playing a critical, supportive, and quietly indispensable role. He believed that our increasing interdependence meant that we had to be engaged in the world through development, with a specific focus on improved governance and deepening trade ties. He was always aware of the context realities and had a practical bent towards what would work.

He was a founding chair of the US-ASEAN Business Council.  In 1990, who in the US had heard of ASEAN—the then obscure (in the U.S.) South East Asia regional group that included communist Vietnam, hermetically sealed Myanmar, barely functional Philippines, autocratic Indonesia, and post-basket case Cambodia? Rod knew that these countries were turning away from Communism, dictatorships, and state capitalism and wanted an alternative to a future tied solely to China, that ultimately these countries would follow the democratic path of the Philippines.  Not all of these countries are ‘there’ yet, but ASEAN is a flourishing region, largely democratic (or getting there), and seeking to diversify its ties outside the region—including with the United States. Rod’s bet on ASEAN looks quite astute looking back.

I knew Rod for his loyal friendship—not so much with me, but through Rod and Carla Hills’ long friendship with my in-laws.  My father-in-law, Domingo Cavallo, as finance minister of Argentina was a colleague of Carla Hills when she was Bush 41’s US Trade Rep. At the time, Carla was working with technocratic reformers like my father in law helping to open markets, tee up the Central American Free Trade Agreement and, of course, NAFTA.  (That generation of leaders was also committed to a hemispheric trade agreement…something that has not yet happened, but with the right leaders in Brazil and Argentina we will get there.) Carla Hills helped deepen and successfully ‘reset’ our relations with Latin America.

After serving in government, my in-laws and the Hills saw each other often, and when my father-in-law was wrongly politically persecuted, Carla and Rod went out of their way to help Domingo and Sonia.  They, along with a number of other friends, (it was instructive watching some other former ‘friends’ look the other way) helped pull together an open letter published in the New York Times signed by the Hills, 4 noble prize winners, and several dozen other prominent global statesmen and women calling on the Argentine government to stop.  Very quickly after that, Domingo’s troubles with a previous Argentine government went away.  There are many people in D.C., California, and around the world that have similar stories.

An American first and a Republican second, Rod believed deeply in free trade and was closest to President Ford and President Bush 41.  He wanted to see what in Spanish might be called, politicas de estado—state policies—that endured beyond Republican or Democrat Administrations. Anti-corruption, good governance, effective states, free trade—an America deeply involved in the world and a crucial international leader ensuring the global system ran right and global prosperity was made possible.  Over the last 40 years, we have made significant global progress in reaching and maintaining these goals and much of that progress can be attributed to leaders like Rod.  He will be missed.

Article Published in on November 3, 2014.

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