by Jeff Jetton // All photos: Go Kate Shoot
Ian Bremmer is a political economist and risk analyst and the president of Eurasia Group, a global political risk analysis consulting firm as well as a professor at Columbia University. He coined the word “G-Zero” (an emerging vacuum of power in international politics created by a decline of Western influence and the domestic focus of the governments of developing states) in his book Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. You’ve most likely seen him on the television or heard him on the radio. He’s what they refer to in Washington as a ‘talking head’. And with good reason. Ian Bremmer is one of the smartest guys in the room. And he curses like a sailor, which we have a deep admiration and respect for.
Several months ago, we sat down with Bremmer to play RISK (get it?). We figured that of all people, he must be really good at the game:
BYT: Are you good at RISK?
IB: I fucking rule at RISK!
BYT: Start by giving me a brief synopsis of the book you recently published.
IB: The book is called Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. It is a book that tries to explain what happens in a world where there is no global leadership, not from the United States or from anyone else. It talks about the implications of that. Implications economically, politically and otherwise. Who are winners and losers. Who does well; who does badly. It also talks about why it is not likely to persist and what happens afterwards. So, that’s what the book is about.
BYT: What are the implications of the recent Turkey/ Syria conflict for that region, and for global politics?
IB: We just had a pretty good G-Zero week. We had the G20 summit that failed in Cabo and, down in Mexico, we had the Rio+20 sustainability summit that was completely useless and didn’t even meet very low expectations. In Brazil, we had the Kofi Annan mission formally fail in Syria. And we had the Iran negotiations fail in Moscow. So, from a G20… well, from a G-Zero perspective, it was a banner week.
BYT: Yeah, from a G-Zero perspective, are you rooting for these to fail?
IB: No, I’m not rooting for this. You know what’s funny. As an analyst, you sometimes have an issue with this because you say what’s happening. On the one hand, you want to be right. On the other hand, you don’t really want to be right about stuff that is lousy; you’d rather be proven wrong. So, I’d love to be proven wrong on the G-Zero. I don’t think I will be. It’s an analytic emotional tension but if you are a political scientist, you shouldn’t be ruled by…
BYT: It’s like rooting against the Miami Heat, right? You don’t want them to win, you hate that they are gonna win, but they are gonna win.
IB: No, it’s easy to root against the Heat. That’s not a problem for me. So, the Syria situation is clearly emblematic of the G-Zero. Assad is a bad, bad guy. His military has performed serious atrocities against their own people. They will not be stopped. There is no easy way to allow them to transition out of power. It is largely sectarian, which means there are haves and have nots and if they are removed, there will be created new haves and have nots leading to, likely, another cycle of violence. Providing the opposition with arms will likely expand the war. The Russians refuse to countenance further sanctions or any sort of direct intervention. The Iranians support the existing Syrian regime. The United States is not prepared to put military troops on the ground. The war has started to spill over into other borders, including into Lebanon with the assassination of an opposition leader that supported the opposition in Syria and now Turkey with the shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet. The G-Zero tells us that especially in a place like the Middle East… we will see more fragmentation. We will see more sectarian fighting. It is a dangerous environment. It means a lot for the region. It doesn’t mean that much outside the region. And if it did, the U.S. might do more. This is the problem. If the United States decides it doesn’t want to take out Assad, how many Americans care? It’s a problem on balance for the U.S. More instability is a problem. Markets won’t like it. The economy is affected at the margins. Syria is a marginal oil producer. There is oil in the region but it is a lot bigger problem for a lot of other counties than it is for the U.S. And it’s harder to convince Americans that should be doing things that are problems for other people…
BYT: Should they be?
IB: From a long term perspective, sure, but it is harder to convince Americans of that. And American politicians are less willing to go against things that are difficult to convince the population of especially when the economy is not doing so well and the unemployment, real unemployment, is fifteen percent.
BYT: What exactly is risk analysis? What does the Eurasia Group do?
IB: We really take a discipline of political science and apply it to the private sector, something that has not really been done well historically. Lots of economists and strategists in the private sector, even physicists at times, because chaos theory has been seen to be useful for derivatives modeling, perhaps more so now even. But political scientists, historically, you get a PhD in political science for an advanced degree, and you either go into academia or public policy or government. You don’t go into the private sector. And that struck me as not so intelligent because there are many ways that political science really matters to the markets. It’s critical in emerging markets where politics matters more than economics, at least in market outcomes. Much more opaque, much more unstable, those countries. The government plays a much bigger role. It is clearly true that in terms of resources and resource nationalism, politics really matters. The big geo-political shifts that are attendant to the G-Zero, make politics matter a great deal, like the question on Syria, and many, many others. And also the response to the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. “fiscal cliff”, the Euro crisis, the Japanese dealing with their own deficit issues and fiscal constraints. Those are governmental issues and political scientists have unique and, I would argue, useful ways of looking at that, so what we do as a firm is try to understand and assess how politics around the world will impact markets and we bring that to our clients all over the world. And that’s really what we do.
BYT: So, if you want to be a political scientist and work in the private sector, this is kind of where you do that? You basically gaze into a crystal ball and tell companies that hire you what you think is going to happen?
IB: Yeah. Well, no. We don’t gaze into a crystal ball. I do not believe that we predict things. I think political science is bad at prediction. I think what we really do well is in a number of instances where politics matters, we can do a better job of tell you what is happening now, than other people. So, we can look at Syria today. We can look at the Eurozone today. And we can look at areas where politics is a driver and we can give you a pretty good sense in those areas of here is how to understand today. And if you understand today better than other people, you may not be able to predict what tomorrow will bring but you will be able to severely limit the possible outcomes for tomorrow because if you know where you are today, a lot of things that seem possible just can’t happen, right? I don’t think that is crystal ball gazing. I think it’s really reality gazing. So, that hopefully limits your realm of scenarios and possibilities.
BYT: Got it. How would you control population in countries like China and Asia?
IB: I think the best way to control a population is to urbanize and to educate women. We have seen historically in many, many countries that once women are educated and have opportunities, and that happens when they live in cities and once they improve their economies, they no longer want to have eight kids. They want to have one or two or maybe three. And that is much more sustainable for them because they have other opportunities. They have other things they can do. And they are productive part of the workforce which means you don’t need to give birth to a bunch of men that will allow you to advance yourself. That’s what we do in Africa. That’s what we do in India. That’s what we do in China. And it’s been happening. It’s going to continue to happen; it’s a fairly natural process. We can help foster that of course.
IB: Yes, we can because we can talk about it. That’s our role and I think it’s useful. If we are in a position where people listen to what we have to say. If I write an article or book, or give a speech, people will listen to me and I’m fortunate and our analysts are fortunate enough to talk to some people who really put money in this stuff, then maybe we can really have an impact. Some of these people can really make a direct difference on these things. And I’m sure you can too.
BYT: Do you think federal and state municipalities have the right to mandate laws on the tinting of vehicles’ windows?
IB: Yeah, I do. I suspect that, one, you potentially are putting law enforcement in danger. You can force someone to have a registration that is in visible sight, a license plate is similar. There’s a safety issue with being able to drive. It’s kind of like forcing someone to have a seatbelt on or wear a motorcycle helmet. A more interesting question is whether or not the state should have the right to say that you cannot buy a Big Gulp soda as Mayor Bloomberg is presently doing. I’m personally quite sympathetic to that.
BYT: Sympathetic to the Big Gulp?
IB: To not allowing people to buy it. I say that because one of the reasons why there are so many Big Gulps out there is not because people want them. It’s because regulatory processes have been captured by corporations that donate a lot of money and as a consequence make it very profitable for them. That is not in the public interest. We do not want to live in a nanny state, but I do very much believe in the policies prescribed by Cass Sunstein in his book Nudge and I think there are ways that the government can help facilitate outcomes that are preferable for the population at large and actually does contribute to the common wheel. I would rather do that without being interventionist but in environments where corporations become too interventionist and capture regulation themselves, the government must be able to battle back so that the people have a chance. The government has to be on the side of the people if the corporations take too much power. I actually see the Bloomberg regulations in doing precisely that.
BYT: Would you outlaw smoking if you could? Ban smoking?
IB: No, I don’t think I’d ban it. I think taxing it heavily is OK. I don’t know if I feel that way about marijuana in part because of marijuana’s status as a gateway drug and I haven’t done enough research around it. I would rather people not smoke. I certainly appreciate the fact that smoking is not legal in restaurants and bars. That used to stop me from going out at night because you’d go someplace and your clothes would reek and you wouldn’t enjoy the experience and that affects your rights. It’s always a question. Whenever you are talking about these issues, it’s not a question of restricting rights. It’s a question of restricting whose rights, and providing for whose rights and that’s a tricky balance. When people make arguments that imply that it’s a question of restricting rights—whether it is gun control lobby, health care lobby, or abortion, pro-choice lobby– whatever it is, people are always trying to say that it is about restricting rights and they are never really prepared to talk about what the honest tradeoffs are. One of the things we need to do a better job of is actually painting those tradeoffs.
BYT: Do you think you could solve some of the crises that are going on in Mexico by legalizing drugs in the United States?
IB: Sure. You’d probably create other ones. But, yeah, there’s no question that the Mexican drug lords would strongly oppose that. Especially if it was legal and the United States started doing a bunch of the planting. You regulate it; you tax it. But again, it is not clear to me that the United States wants to live in a laissez faire, everything is fine even when it is dangerous. If you end up with a lot more drug addicts on the street that would not be a positive thing. How many more people would be killed by drug related crimes in the U.S. if you had a lot more people doing drugs? Now, having said that, I do think the overcrowding of jails and the level of criminalization of marijuana use in many states and the United States is clearly a very expensive and inefficient solution and probably should also be addressed.
BYT: So it should be fines then?
IB: Three strikes, you’re out was clearly not the right way to handle it. I’m not an expert on U.S. domestic policy so I’m kinda giving you some of my impressionistic views on this stuff. I’m open to argumentation on legalizing marijuana. I don’t feel competent enough to make a public statement. I might vote in favor of it. I don’t feel competent enough to make a public statement where I might god forbid influence people where I don’t think I know what I’m talking about.
BYT: I started smoking pot because of Ian Bremmer, mom (laughs)… How many shares of Facebook stock did you buy?
BYT: You didn’t feel the need to buy any Facebook stock?
IB: So, the last time I saw a petulant 28 year old running something that was ostensibly worth billions of dollars he had nuclear weapons, so I generally thought Facebook was not where I wanted to go with my money.
BYT: Were you happy with the outcome of the NBA finals?
BYT: Not a Heat fan?
IB: I hate LeBron James. Hate is a strong word. There are very few people out there that I hate. But I’m close to hating LeBron. I can’t forgive him for the decision. The level of self-aggrandizement and narcissism and the lack of understand of the importance of his personal brand and the importance of his stardom as a role model to so many youth in the United States and around the world and he so abused that and manipulated people. It is everything that I dislike about professional sports wrapped into one individual. And I would love to never see him win another title.
BYT: But if you went by that criteria there’s gotta be a lot of athletes that you strongly dislike?
IB: There are, but not hate, he is number one on my hate list.
BYT: Do you appreciate the way he plays the game?
IB: Not particularly. I appreciate the way Steve Nash plays the game. And Rajon Rondo played the game. I liked the way Bill Cousy used to played the game. OK, I’m a Celtics fan but I like other people too. I like college ball. I like it when they play as a team. I like it when they win as a team. Frankly, I like the Thunder more simply because I felt like there was a real dynamic on that team where they supported each other a lot more and it was less about these superstars that are chest-thumping. I think the Celtics this year were like that as well. They are more seasoned but, generally speaking, I think that was the case.
BYT: Are you excited for the Nets to be in Brooklyn?
IB: Yes I am. I think Brooklyn deserves to have professional sports teams. It’s a real city. It’s an exciting place to go. I’ve got a lot of friends in Brooklyn. I almost thought about moving there. So, it’s a good place. I’ll go to some of those games. I didn’t go to any jersey games.
BYT: The search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Do you believe in aliens?
IB: I think it’s fantastically narcissistic to believe that in the entire universe, with all of the planetary systems that we’ve already discovered and the countless others that are out there, that we are the only forms of life. Now, the real question is not are there other forms of life out there, but are there other intelligent forms of life out there right now. Because the universe is not only really big but it’s also really long. It’s been around for a long time; it’s going to be around for a long time. It’s not clear in that period what the time frame is for intelligent life as we would come to know or understand or perceive it. But I can’t image that we are the only living beings out there.
BYT: Do you think it makes sense for the U.S. to curtail its space exploration right now?
IB: I would hate to see that but when you say the U.S., you are talking about government, I assume. NASA is increasingly not the future of space exploration. I love the fact that the X and Ansari prizes are out there. I love the fact that we have private sector folks devoting a lot of money to stimulate innovation in space technology. I like the fact that organizations like DARPA and ARPA, that government organizations are funding them. I would love to take some of the money that has gone to NASA, historically, and put it into stimulating competition in the private sector to help do more space technology. I want to see us do a lot more in space. There’s no question. How much of that needs to be done directly by the government as opposed to indirectly motivated and incentivized by the government is an open question.
BYT: Who is your all-time least favorite African dictator?
IB: All-time is hard to say. Mugabe would top my list today. He is so beyond his expiration date. It is really time to get him out of there.
BYT: Do you think that the U.S. should lead that charge?
IB: I thought that Blair should lead that charge when he was talking about it, frankly. He was relevant and he was clearly motivated and then he kinda let it go. If you told me that there were a group of countries that were ready to go in and get rid of Mugabe, I would support it. If that was done covertly, I wouldn’t yell about it. But I also think that the United States is not longer going to be the world’s policemen and our days of determining you’re in or you’re out around the world no matter what the level of direct American interest or connection are going to be very limited. Increasingly, Africa will be doing that.
BYT: Is that for better or for worse?
IB: On balance, a little bit for worse, but mixed because while America frequently does these things with better interests than most countries, its interests can be convoluted; it can make mistakes in implementation. It doesn’t always follow through. And sometimes its interests are no better than other countries. So, if you put all of that together, it’s complicated.
BYT: In your latest book, you argue we are living in a G-Zero era meaning that the global economy is no longer managed by superpowers. How then do you explain the popularity of the Avengers?
IB: I think that superheroes are an extremely popular genre in the United States and internationally but we haven’t seen red dawn in a while. And I know they were planning on doing a red dawn revisited which I think they pulled the plug on that was going to involve the Chinese or North Koreans or something like that. They were going to use the Chinese and then they wanted to sell more movies in China so they didn’t do it. The Cold War got us excited about superpowers and the G-Zero gets us excited about superheroes. As you see, the only kind of global leaders that we are prepared to accept in a G-Zero world are the ones that don’t exist. That should tell you something about where we are today.
BYT: Did the killing of Osama Bin Laden accomplish anything?
IB: Yeah, it helped us get out of Afghanistan. And it bolstered Obama a little bit. It meant that he was less vulnerable on foreign policy issues from the Republicans. That’s probably useful because foreign policy is not an area where you want to play a lot of politics in; you’d rather have consensus. There is a fair amount of consensus between a Romney foreign policy and an Obama foreign policy. It’s very clear that Al Qaeda is not the organization that it was. It doesn’t have the reach that it had before. Its areas of home operation are increasingly in places like Yemen and the Arabian peninsula, Somalia. Not so much in South Asia and the U.S. has had a lot to do with that. And it’s good that Bin Laden is gone. I’m not someone who generally wants to see people die, but Bin Laden would be on my list. And now he is not, so that’s a useful thing. It has hurt U.S./Pakistan relations but, frankly, given what’s been happening in Pakistan those relations probably needed to be damaged and I think if that means that people have a better understanding of the limitations of what Pakistan can and will do for the United States, that’s probably useful.
BYT: Currency crises have an upside: budget travel. Which exotic locales will be most desperate for foreign exchange this summer?
IB: Egypt. Let’s go to Egypt. It’s a good time to go to Egypt. Tourism is about a third of their economy. They’ve gotten crushed on tourism. And the pyramids are still there and they are very exciting. And the diving in Sharm el Shiehk is some of the best in the world. The people are very hospitable. The food is quite good. Culture in Cairo is fantastic. Café Culture in Cairo.
BYT: Egyptian food? It’s good?
IB: Yeah (with slight hesitation). It’s everything in the region, North African, Middle Eastern, Levante. It’s good stuff. It’s fun. It’s not as great as Turkey, but it’s good. And it is cheap as hell. And boy, are they excited to see tourists. Anyone coming and spending money right now. And it’s a historic time to go; it’s not like there is a lot of violence on the streets, frankly. It’s a good time to go to Egypt.
BYT: And Greece?
IB: Greece is cheap. Cyprus. Good time to go to Cyprus. Definitely. I think people already know that. I think Egypt is a place that right now people would be scared to go but they shouldn’t be.
BYT: Not Syria though.
IB: This would not be the time to go to Syria.
BYT: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
IB: I support nuclear power. The green movement has finally gotten around to that so, yeah. What do I think about the environment… (pause)
BYT: You don’t hate the environment do you?
IB: We’re wealthy people. We’re sitting here in New York, Washington. We live in a fantastically wealthy country. We don’t have to worry about food. We don’t have to worry about clothing. We wore the same shirt. We don’t have to worry about our safety. It’s very easy for us to be environmentalists. It’s very easy for me to be an environmentalist. It’s very easy for me to care about making sure that we protect the forests and the whales, and all that stuff. It’s very hard for someone who makes $1,000 a year or some who makes less than $1 a day to care about the environment. And I don’t blame them. So, I absolutely am an environmentalist. I am probably more of an environmentalist than most people who live in the world today, but I think that comes from my position in the world and that doesn’t make me a better person. And I think one of the reasons why we’re not doing anything about the environment, why we are failing so much from a global perspective, is so different depending on who you are and where you live. It’s a really hard question to answer, honestly.
BYT: So the environmental realist, I guess?
IB: I think that the environment is very a complicated question. I am very sympathetic to people who support the environment who live in the United States. I am very sympathetic to people who don’t support the environment who live in a very poor country.
BYT: Makes sense. What are your thoughts on fracking?
IB: I expect that we will not regulate it properly because we want the money. And the private sector will be powerful and we will make a lot of money out of it and hopefully it won’t be an environmental disaster but if it is we will learn that later and then we will have to fix the regulations to catch up as we so often do. It will be like oil drilling off the coast of the gulf. Having said that, there is a real energy revolution underway in the United States. The U.S. dominates it. Some Canadians and American universities were where we learn this stuff. American corporations own the technology. It does show that the United States is still by far the leader in advanced technologies globally. It’s an economy that you want to bet on.
BTY: If you are a betting man.
BYT: You’ve been to Berlin I take it? What would you do about the graffiti problem, if you call it a problem?
IB: I think graffiti is part of Berlin culture. I would probably create a museum around it if they haven’t already. There probably is one that is small someplace that I’m just not aware of. You think about what the Berlin wall meant and how visible that was in everyone’s life. How it was a part of their very identity. And when it came down, everyone wanted a piece of that wall. Everyone wanted to understand what that meant.
IB: Berlin is still a very edgy place, a very cosmopolitan place. It’s a place where completely different ideas and cultures come together and clash in a very warm way. In a very warm-hearted way. It’s a very young city. It’s a vibrant city. It’s an exciting city. It’s a city that’s also scarred by history. I think that’s to be celebrated and graffiti is to be celebrated. Graffiti in Berlin is very different than when they spray something on the wall dividing the west bank and Israel. And should be treated as such in Berlin.
BYT: Who is your favorite U.S. Senator?
IB: Well, one, he wore a bow tie and he looked really good doing it so I think that’s pretty cool. Secondly, he was a professor, and he was an academic. He was an intellectual. He was a man of letters. He wrote at least as well as he spoke and, yet, he was an extraordinary orator. He cared about American exceptionalism in a thoughtful way, not just in an establishment way but also in a way that truly was meant to make the world a better place. He cared about the American nation, the American dream and American ideals. He cared about the way that the different pieces of the American melting pot all fit together and made more than just one cohesive whole. And I think he inspired a great many Americans while he was doing so and I think we all miss him.
BYT: And he wore a bow tie.
IB: And he wore a bow tie. I great bow tie.
BYT: This is the second time ties have come up in this interview.
IB: First if we don’t use the first one.
BYT: What do you think about the term celebrity economist? Accurate description?
IB: I’m biased since one of them is one of my best friends. I think there are celebrities and I think there are economists. In a very, very small number of cases there are celebrity economists. That is in part true because we just experienced the 2008 financial crisis which scares the begezes out of absolutely everybody. A few people got it right; a few people pretended to get it right. And a few people speak very well in public. You put that all together, you probably get some celebrity economists. But as I said, I’m biased.
BYT: Put on your Franco cap for a moment. What would you do about the Spanish having a 50% unemployment rate?
IB: First, I’d try to educate them more effectively. I’d try to give them a much better early skill set so they are more capable of participating in an advanced global economy. Secondly, I’d facilitate a lot of early international travel—I’d want to get them experiences outside as well– both in Europe and outside of Europe, so that they understand opportunities in different parts of the world. They become more global in orientation. Some of them might well immigrate and that’s OK because they will still maintain Spanish roots and that’s interesting. And keep in mind of course that Spain was historic in colonial power. There are a lot of counties around the world that are very vibrant and that actually have Spanish as a primary language. I’d love to see larger numbers of young Spaniards actually going and helping to make a difference in those countries too.
BYT: Like the Peace Corps?
IB: Not just Peace Corps. Peace Corps is great, but I’m talking more about actually investing and building a business and building stuff that’s sustainable and will grow itself. It’s the whole teach a man to fish philosophy. I want to see people actually fish.
BYT: Business Corps?
IB: Yeah, Business Corps. It’s always been more interesting to me than Peace Corps.
BYT: At the head of the cold war, you were involved in league bowling. We now live in a G-Zero world and you run marathons. What impact did geo-politics have on your leisure activities?
IB: It made them harder, apparently. Once I hit 40, I had to run a marathon. It was just on my bucket list. I’ve got a long bucket list. It changes all the time but that was on my bucket list. So I did it; I’m not going to do anymore. I run every day, but one marathon is enough. I wanted the experience but I won’t do it again. I love league bowling. The problem with New York is it’s hard to do league bowling in New York. We looked around. I have people to form a team. Plenty of people around here bowl. We have internal teams and we go bowling every couple months. Everyone loves it but there just aren’t leagues in Manhattan and so it’s hard to do. It’s kind of frustrating.
BYT: So your bucket list changes all the time? Does that mean you are constantly checking things off or you take things off?
IB: I don’t take things off. I either check things off or I add things.
BYT: So it is just getting longer and longer?
IB: No, sometimes you check things off because you’ve done them. If you aren’t checking stuff off your bucket list, you aren’t living very well. She just checked a big thing off of her bucket list. She’s having her second baby. See, that’s on her bucket list. She had to have two.
BYT: So, what is next on your bucket list?
IB: I don’t know what is next… What is next? I’m not sure. There’s a bunch of stuff there.
BYT: So it is actually a written down list that you keep?
IB: Yeah. There will be a few things this year I’m just not sure what is actually next.
BYT: Assess your level of risk comfort in the following areas. Choose one for each: adverse, neutral, or tolerant. Planning a vacation?
BYT: Playing monopoly?
BYT: I actually have this: Picking out a tie?
IB: Not applicable.
BYT: You don’t get crazy with your tie choices?
IB: I haven’t bought a tie in over 10 years.
BYT: You are rocking some ‘90’s ties.
IB: I almost never wear ties, so the ties I have suck. Yes, that is true.
BYT: Eating ethnic food?
BYT: Picking stocks?
IB: I don’t.
BYT: Picking horses?
IB: I don’t.
BYT: Picking a movie?
IB: What’s the in-between. Neutral? Yeah, Neutral. We don’t go very far.
BYT: Putting lighter fluid on the BBQ?
BYT: In the bedroom?
IB: No comment.
BYT: Taking narcotics?
IB: Adverse. Never tried any.
IB: No. I was too dorky for people to offer me pot when I was a kid. That’s the thing. I don’t even know if I would have because when you are 15 you go to college, you’re 11 you go to high school, the people that are doing pot are not hanging out with you, so it just never came up.
BYT: So you were never even around it?
IB: I wasn’t around it. I didn’t know people were doing it. I had no idea. People told me, oh yeah. When you are in high school it’s 9A, 9B, 9C, 9D and I’m in 9A which means like 9D is the stupid class. You don’t even realize this but everyone knows 9D is all of the druggies. I never saw anyone do drugs. You don’t see kids doing drugs when you are 11. I skipped ahead when I was younger.
BYT: Yeah, that would be pretty scary if you were doing drugs at 11.
IB: I was fifteen in college at Tulane. No one offered me drugs.
BYT: Fifteen in college? You are like that kid in that movie Almost Famous.
IB: I didn’t see that movie.
BYT: Was that difficult, awkward?
IB: I lied about my age in college so that I could be normal socially. So that girls would go out with me and stuff like that. I just said I was normal age. I just said I was like 18.
BYT: And you were eleven?
IB: I was fifteen in college. I was not plausibly eleven. Academics were not a challenge when I was fifteen in college. The challenge was figuring out how to fit in socially, so I needed to figure that out. It was very good that I went to Tulane and didn’t go to MIT because at Tulane you were forced to figure out social skills. It’s a party school. You were forced to figure out social stuff. In a way that at MIT, I could have just hung out with a bunch of nerds and never had to do it. It actually really mattered.
BYT: Were there other fifteen year olds?
IB: Not to my knowledge but they could have been lying as well, so you never know. There could have been like this secret society.
BYT: You could have taken down like the whole fraternity system. They find one fifteen year old at a party and it’s all over.
IB: I pledged in a fraternity. I quit when they hazed after they told me they didn’t do hazing. I was pledge class president. I took like half of the pledge class with me because they were my buddies and we were all there and we were like these guys said they didn’t haze and they hazed. Fuck that.
BYT: So…You were fifteen at that time?
IB: Yeah. No, I was sixteen. Sophomore.
BYT: Pledge class president. You should write a book about that.
IB: I don’t remember most of it.
BYT: That’s what it could be called. What are some world leaders we’re not talking about but should be?
IB: Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, who is much less charismatic than Luva but she’s very pragmatic. She’s fighting corruption in a serious way. She’s been very hard-headed around her fiscal policy. She’s very balanced in her international relations between the U.S. and China. She’s not playing ideology. I think she’s doing a fantastic job. Because she is not this big, brassy loud speaking leader, she hasn’t gotten the same amount of attention that she deserves but she’s doing a really good job.
BYT: Anyone else?
IB: Noda-san in Japan. For the first time, in a long time, is a Prime Minister that is actually taking on unpopular policies. He’s pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, which is quite unpopular in Japan. He’s actually reopened a couple of nuclear plants which is enormously unpopular after Fukushima but the Japanese desperately need them. Now he has formed an alliance with the opposition parties to move a consumption tax which is going to be painful but necessary given the Japanese fiscal situation. Japanese leaders haven’t had that kind of boldness since Kusumi. He’s also a very soft-spoken, thoughtful and decent person. It’s hard to say that about any head of state because, you know, by the time you get to that position you are professionally bullshitting people because you are a politician. But to the extent that I have seen him speak, he does seem like someone who really gets it. And I’m impressed with that.
BYT: Do you believe that the children are our future?
IB: By definition.
BYT: Thank you for your time.
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