Categories
Philanthropy

Interview with David Rockefeller

David Rockefeller

David Rockefeller, head of the legendary philanthropic dynasty, gives BB this exclusive interview:

BB The name of Rockefeller is one of awe-inspiring legacy. Is the path of a standard bearer a lonely and onerous one or is it a privilege? What do you consider your own most important legacy to be?

DR As children, my siblings and I recognized that we belonged to an unusual, even exceptional family. For some it was a burden, for others an opportunity. I was always in the latter camp. I have always been proud of my name and the honourable traditions, particularly in supporting philanthropic institutions, that it represents.

BB Your name is indelibly linked to supporting the arts.In the face of so many inequities in the world, why and how is it important to support the arts?

DR I have been immersed in the world of art since I was a small boy. I owe much to my mother, in particular, for her patient transmission of her love of art. I feel very proud of the family’s involvement with the Museum of Modern Art from the very beginning with my mother. I think great works of art by great artists of the world, in many respects, belong to the world at large. In my own case, I feel very privileged to be a present owner, but I also feel responsible to make art works available to others. For example, I loaned a collection to MoMA years ago and have lent individual paintings to museums around the world.”

BB Your grand-father inspired and motivated others by personal example even long before he built a fortune. What would he have thought of pseudo-philanthropists of today who are motivated by social advancement alone?

DR My grandfather’s belief in philanthropy flowed from his religious training and the experiences of his own life. Grandfather was a strong individualist but he defined the term differently than others. He rejected the idea of individualism as selfishness and self-aggrandizement.  Rather, he defined individualism as the freedom to achieve and the obligation to return something of value to the community that had nurtured and sustained him. I believe this was both the source and object of his philanthropy that was passed down to my father and to our family.

As to today’s philanthropists, I have worked closely with and am a great supporter of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett and the tremendous philanthropic work they are doing around the world.

BB You would be aware of the extent to which the Rockefeller name has acquired a near noun status – synonymous as it is with both wealth and philanthropy, and infused with quasi legendary potency. Is it difficult toapply a simple ethic of noblesse oblige to the complex dilemmas facing humanity today and how is the next generation of Rockefellers being equipped to deal with them in a relevant way?

DR As my children have grown older, each of them has discovered fields of special interest in which they have excelled and through which they have made contributions to the society in which we live. In many ways I think my proudest accomplishment – and one that I attribute in large part to my late wife Peggy – is these six vigorous, intelligent and committed individuals. Although we didn’t always agree on many things in the past, today they have come to embrace their heritage as strongly as I did and have used their resources to improve the world or at least try to change it for the better. I am immensely proud of each one of them.”

 

Categories
Philanthropy

Interview with Christian Rhomberg

Christian Rhomberg, founder of the all-powerful Kee Club in Hong Kong is interviewed for BB by Louise Bleach

Christian Rhomberg

CR KEE was designed to be something of a ‘home away from home’ for our members. It is designed similarly to a grand residence and what we try to do at KEE is to maintain a large team of managers. Their main function is to make people feel at home here, to make introductions, and to encourage an exchange of interesting ideas and conversations.

BB KEE attracts such an eclectic mix of people what would you say is the common denominator between them?

CR They come from all walks of life and we make a special effort to mix people. So it is not a club for the British, or for the French, or for the Chinese; we have a very good balance. They also come from all sorts of different professions, and we try to mix the age groups. Of course KEE is a little bit more mature than a normal night club. Here we might see three generations in one day. For example the grandparents come in for lunch, the parents for dinner and their kids, well those in their 20s, come to party in the evening.

BB You have an avid interest in Buddhism, Tibet and ayruvedic medicine. Is this a passion you would ever like to resonate in future KEE franchises?

CR Actually we are working on two new projects. One is a country club outside of Shanghai, where we will also have a hotel among other facilities.This hotel will have a focused program on preventive hygiene, detox and upmarket conferences on the topic of sustainability. My partner there, the owner of that project, has set up a foundation to introduce new techniques in production that conforms with sustainability.He has provided the foundation with over twenty million US dollars, so he is very serious about it. What we do is to help him to build a platform that brings the right people in China together. Not only in China, but internationally too.

We are also planning a spiritual health retreat in Bhutan which will have fifty rooms or villas. We are collaborating on design with Kengo Kuma, who recently did the Opposite House. This is a nearly complete plan and we hope to start building it this year. We will focus very much on ayuveda and other trans-cultural healing therapies, even some new western healing therapies like kinesiology. It will be very interesting as we are working with one of the world’s best healing clinics, Lanzerhof from Austria, and one of the most respected ayuverda clinics in southern India, based in Kerala, called Sumateram. They have been rated as one of the best clinics for more than thirty years.

BB It seems almost an oxymoron to manage of the most famous nightclubs in Asia and hopefully a very successful health retreat!

CR We have poisoned people long enough. But our healing places will be fun. They will not be holy, they will not be boring, they will be KEE.There will definitely be some fun to it.

BB Style and sophistication are synonymous with KEE, do you think a flair for style is something you can acquire and cultivate or is it hardwired?

CR I believe that you do inherit a little bit. I am sure that I inherited a lot from my parents. My mother was an art historian and archaeologist and my grand aunt was a very famous painter in Munich in the 1920s, so something must have come down to me.Also I grew up around antique collections, and I always lived in beautiful old buildings and houses across Europe. But I also think you can learn a lot. I love to design places and have learnt by working with very talented architects.

BB Was KEE developed by instinct or careful research?

CR I did some serious thinking about it because I did not want to do just another club in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a lot of clubs and with all respect, out of the many clubs I would have to say I prefer the China Club because it was put together intelligently and beautifully and I love their art collection. The only thing that I missed then was a club that was just a club. There was no nightclub aspect to Hong Kong, and I thought that was boring, so we added that on. Generally the types of programs we do we are quite different because we are constantly learning. Through KEE magazine we meet a lot of people which brings us feedback; and we always have a team of creative people with us so we can explore new ideas.

Originally when I set up the club I was studying a little bit, and I was actually fascinated by the sell-on culture. Sell-ons being social places centred on and around an interesting woman. In KEE there is an interesting woman, my wife Maria, so in some ways I built it somewhat for her.

BB What other projects are you involved in outside of KEE?

CR Since quite a few years I have supported various charity causes and I’m also a director of a Buddhist charity called Karua Sethian. With Karuna we look after and we fund in Tibet, in Nepal, in Bhutan and India about 20 to 30 ongoing projects. They range from big schools of up to 800 students to hospitals. We have one hospital in Nepal that has about 100 000 patients a year.This is quite a commitment but it’s really enjoyable; and because it is part managed within a Buddhist environment the monasteries help us so it is not that difficult to manage.In the monasteries there is such a great amount of respect so you don’t have to have a huge organization.

I also support a child wildlife scheme in Nepal because they are close friends of mine and they do very good projects, as well as doing a lot of fundraising here in Hong Kong. But whenever I can I like to support good ideas. I met a wonderful young Chinese lady who became a nun and she has opened her own orphanage in the Hunan province. She looks after 40 children, and its amazingly beautiful what she does for them and what a happy community she has.I am very happy to help her. I’m actually hoping to go there. We have adopted a few kids from there because it’s relatively easy to give someone money. I think you have to do a little bit more. I want to pass this feeling onto my children. I am going to take my daughter Mara there soon because I think that is an experience she has never had.

BB What sparked your passion for Buddhism?

CR When I was a kid I was sure I was going to end up in heaven and then I was told it’s not so easy. So I started to wonder: what is the meaning of life? Is there God? All these questions and, although I came from a Catholic background, my questions were never really answered. So, I started to read a lot of existential philosophy but I had a feeling that in Asia I would find a lot more answers.I had already started to read books on Buddhism, and I think subconsciously this made me chose to come to Asia. After I had arrived here I then connected and met my first teachers. The more I learnt about it the more comfortable I became with Buddhism because it’s not a religion, they don’t postulate Buddha as a God. They say that we all have a Buddha nature inside of us and happiness comes from learning to care for other people. And that makes a lot of sense.

BB How would you define happiness from a personal point of view?

CR I think happiness has to do with not taking yourself as too important and being open. Then you are not so afraid about things. Being and sharing with other people is what makes you naturally happy. Most people think I am a good person in my family but this is just an extended part of you. This is not really what I consider opening yourself up. I think you need to do a little bit more. I always enjoy being with people and looking after them, so this is very important to me.

What do you hold sacred?

Beyond family and children it is really the knowledge that if I focus I can reach something like enlightenment. If I can reach this state then I will be freer to help more people. One of my teachers had such a power, merely from his presence, that he really changed my life. Out of personal experience this is what is most sacred for me.

Christian Rhomberg, founder of the all-powerful Kee Club in Hong Kong is interviewed for BB by Louise Bleach

BB How would you in a sentence describe the KEE concept?

CR KEE was designed to be something of a ‘home away from home’ for our members. It is designed similarly to a grand residence and what we try to do at KEE is to maintain a large team of managers. Their main function is to make people feel at home here, to make introductions, and to encourage an exchange of interesting ideas and conversations.

BB KEE attracts such an eclectic mix of people what would you say is the common denominator between them?

CR They come from all walks of life and we make a special effort to mix people. So it is not a club for the British, or for the French, or for the Chinese; we have a very good balance. They also come from all sorts of different professions, and we try to mix the age groups. Of course KEE is a little bit more mature than a normal night club. Here we might see three generations in one day. For example the grandparents come in for lunch, the parents for dinner and their kids, well those in their 20s, come to party in the evening.

BB You have an avid interest in Buddhism, Tibet and ayruvedic medicine. Is this a passion you would ever like to resonate in future KEE franchises?

CR Actually we are working on two new projects. One is a country club outside of Shanghai, where we will also have a hotel among other facilities.This hotel will have a focused program on preventive hygiene, detox and upmarket conferences on the topic of sustainability. My partner there, the owner of that project, has set up a foundation to introduce new techniques in production that conforms with sustainability.He has provided the foundation with over twenty million US dollars, so he is very serious about it. What we do is to help him to build a platform that brings the right people in China together. Not only in China, but internationally too.

We are also planning a spiritual health retreat in Bhutan which will have fifty rooms or villas. We are collaborating on design with Kengo Kuma, who recently did the Opposite House. This is a nearly complete plan and we hope to start building it this year. We will focus very much on ayuveda and other trans-cultural healing therapies, even some new western healing therapies like kinesiology. It will be very interesting as we are working with one of the world’s best healing clinics, Lanzerhof from Austria, and one of the most respected ayuverda clinics in southern India, based in Kerala, called Sumateram. They have been rated as one of the best clinics for more than thirty years.

BB It seems almost an oxymoron to manage of the most famous nightclubs in Asia and hopefully a very successful health retreat!

CR We have poisoned people long enough. But our healing places will be fun. They will not be holy, they will not be boring, they will be KEE.There will definitely be some fun to it.

BB Style and sophistication are synonymous with KEE, do you think a flair for style is something you can acquire and cultivate or is it hardwired?

CR I believe that you do inherit a little bit. I am sure that I inherited a lot from my parents. My mother was an art historian and archaeologist and my grand aunt was a very famous painter in Munich in the 1920s, so something must have come down to me.Also I grew up around antique collections, and I always lived in beautiful old buildings and houses across Europe. But I also think you can learn a lot. I love to design places and have learnt by working with very talented architects.

BB Was KEE developed by instinct or careful research?

CR I did some serious thinking about it because I did not want to do just another club in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a lot of clubs and with all respect, out of the many clubs I would have to say I prefer the China Club because it was put together intelligently and beautifully and I love their art collection. The only thing that I missed then was a club that was just a club. There was no nightclub aspect to Hong Kong, and I thought that was boring, so we added that on. Generally the types of programs we do we are quite different because we are constantly learning. Through KEE magazine we meet a lot of people which brings us feedback; and we always have a team of creative people with us so we can explore new ideas.

Originally when I set up the club I was studying a little bit, and I was actually fascinated by the sell-on culture. Sell-ons being social places centred on and around an interesting woman. In KEE there is an interesting woman, my wife Maria, so in some ways I built it somewhat for her.

BB What other projects are you involved in outside of KEE?

CR Since quite a few years I have supported various charity causes and I’m also a director of a Buddhist charity called Karua Sethian. With Karuna we look after and we fund in Tibet, in Nepal, in Bhutan and India about 20 to 30 ongoing projects. They range from big schools of up to 800 students to hospitals. We have one hospital in Nepal that has about 100 000 patients a year.This is quite a commitment but it’s really enjoyable; and because it is part managed within a Buddhist environment the monasteries help us so it is not that difficult to manage.In the monasteries there is such a great amount of respect so you don’t have to have a huge organization.

I also support a child wildlife scheme in Nepal because they are close friends of mine and they do very good projects, as well as doing a lot of fundraising here in Hong Kong. But whenever I can I like to support good ideas. I met a wonderful young Chinese lady who became a nun and she has opened her own orphanage in the Hunan province. She looks after 40 children, and its amazingly beautiful what she does for them and what a happy community she has.I am very happy to help her. I’m actually hoping to go there. We have adopted a few kids from there because it’s relatively easy to give someone money. I think you have to do a little bit more. I want to pass this feeling onto my children. I am going to take my daughter Mara there soon because I think that is an experience she has never had.

BB What sparked your passion for Buddhism?

CR When I was a kid I was sure I was going to end up in heaven and then I was told it’s not so easy. So I started to wonder: what is the meaning of life? Is there God? All these questions and, although I came from a Catholic background, my questions were never really answered. So, I started to read a lot of existential philosophy but I had a feeling that in Asia I would find a lot more answers.I had already started to read books on Buddhism, and I think subconsciously this made me chose to come to Asia. After I had arrived here I then connected and met my first teachers. The more I learnt about it the more comfortable I became with Buddhism because it’s not a religion, they don’t postulate Buddha as a God. They say that we all have a Buddha nature inside of us and happiness comes from learning to care for other people. And that makes a lot of sense.

BB How would you define happiness from a personal point of view?

CR I think happiness has to do with not taking yourself as too important and being open. Then you are not so afraid about things. Being and sharing with other people is what makes you naturally happy. Most people think I am a good person in my family but this is just an extended part of you. This is not really what I consider opening yourself up. I think you need to do a little bit more. I always enjoy being with people and looking after them, so this is very important to me.

What do you hold sacred?

Beyond family and children it is really the knowledge that if I focus I can reach something like enlightenment. If I can reach this state then I will be freer to help more people. One of my teachers had such a power, merely from his presence, that he really changed my life. Out of personal experience this is what is most sacred for me.

Categories
Philanthropy

Interview with John Caudwell

John Caudwell is one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs and a passionate philanthropist. He has offered BB an exclusive interview.

John Caudwell

 BB How and why did you start CAUDWELL CHILDREN?

JC I started it 11 years ago. All I had done up to then was build my business and like most people, I didn’t exactly have this yearning ambition to do something charitable.

The NSPCC had asked me to help with an event for sexually abused children. I had a meeting with Lord Stafford who was involved with the event and was invited to look at some videos of abused children at one of the NSPCC centers, and the whole thing really got to my heart. I actually ended up taking over the whole event. But then, I realised that it is not just about sexually abused children – that there are lots of children in society that are born into a terribly bad situation – it is purely the luck of birth. There is nothing they can do to change their life. They are just saddled with whatever they are born with. I started thinking, it is really so devastatingly unfair that they are brought into a life of misery.At least rich families have the means to be able to do what they need to help their children. It then became so apparent and appalling to me that some children are born with such terrible challenges in life, yet their parents have got no money whatsoever to provide for the most fundamental basic needs of their child. This is not a world that is acceptable. You have to do something about it. And that motivated me to set up my own charity, Caudwell Children. I’ve still carried on supporting other charities, but Caudwell Children became very close to my heart.

We just went out to try and help every child that we could find. In some cases we’d cure the problem, but in most cases, we’d just make the life of a child a lot better – a lot more sustainable and enjoyable. We have provided a huge amount of help like this.

Sometimes you come across a child whose expected lifespan is perhaps only 20 years no matter what you do, but you can enhance the quality of these 20 years massively.

In one case I remember this child who had muscular atrophy (a degenerative muscle disease whose victims’ bones often struggle to realign). The child was sleeping on a mattress with wedges in it to hold the body in line while she was in bed. The cost of a special orthopedic mattress was £1000, but the parents couldn’t afford it, so the child had to have an operation every 2-3 years as a result. Her weak unsupported body deteriorated, – something that could have been reduced or avoided just by having the right equipment and that right equipment being simply a special mattress.

I am committed to paying all the administrative costs associated with the running of the Charity, so people who donate to the charity know that every pound goes directly to a child in need.

The trouble with donating to charities in general is that finding an organization that’s using the money properly and effectively is so very time-consuming.That is always the really big worry for donors. Whereas in my charity every pound donated is made to provide two pounds in value. All our people working for Caudwell Children are trained to negotiate with hotels, medics, airlines and other service providers to try and keep the costs down. This sends a very strong message across to potential donors.

BB Do wealthy people give out of sense of guilt, compelled to do so because they have such vast wealth.

JC I am sure with some people out there it would be guilt. There are all sorts of emotions. My personal emotion has nothing to do with guilt. It is just a feeling that I have to do it. It is different from guilt, although, I’d probably feel guilty if I did nothing. I feel great sadness to see people’s lives blighted by illness and I also feel that we, as a society, are required to help in a sustainable way. I can go to a charity event and get as much pleasure as I do from flying a helicopter, for example – because I am doing something meaningful. Doing something enjoyable is limited and of personal value only, whereas helping others is not only enjoyable, but has long-term, measurable results.

At a charity event, people go and have a great meal and a fabulous time. But one doesn’t get the same sense of fulfillment as with helping improve life. You see kids who are struggling yet are so grateful for so little, and you think, they should not have been born with so many traumatic challenges in life.

BB Assuming that you have a lot of different friends, do they have anything in common that you can identify?

JC I would say they are all good people. Good is such a general concept but I don’t tend to have friends who have serious moral issues.There are people who are perceived as good and great by everyone around them but if I detect a personality flaw – something that is seriously negative – I won’t bother with them. I should point out that that does not apply to somebody who has already become a good friend.

BB What do you most value in friendship?

JC Friends are people whose company you enjoy. I like people who are active and fun and share my interests, my love of cycling and skiing, for example. Friends are also people who are supportive when it matters – as I am to them.I might not do the small things for them that other people could, but for things that are seriously important, I would be there for them and expect them to be there for me too.

BB Do curiosity and zest for life abate with age?

JC I think recklessness abates with age, but I am very lucky in that my zest for life is huge and I still want to do a lot of things – many more than I have time for.

I am also adventurous and like a challenge.

I am doing the hardest stage of the Tour de France next week, which is a 110 miles ride with 14 000 feet of climb and in temperatures probably over 30 degrees. I have only just started training 4 weeks ago (most people train for months and are quite young).

The main thing that scares me is the fleet of coaches and two police officers on motorbikes who ride behind the cyclists and take out the slow ones out of the race.

I am 99% certain that I am not fast enough to stay ahead of them, but am doing it for Caudwell Children.

People think I am being modest when I say this but they don’t realise the toughness of this challenge. Last year 6000 cyclists failed to do it.

BB What do you hold sacred?

JC Truthfulness. I hate dishonesty and I can’t deal with liars.

BB Define happiness

JC For me personally, happiness would be a combination between leading an active life – the challenges that keep me alert on a day to day basis – and more importantly, being surrounded by the people who are important to me.

There are always problems in life and nothing is as easy it seems from outside. But I am happy because overall my children are well balanced and good people. When your children are decent people, the world is a better place with them in it.

Categories
Philanthropy

T Boone Pickens on energy and politics

T Boone Pickens (Time Magazine cover, March 4th, 1985)

The full text of our exclusive interview with T Boone Pickens appears in the Spring 2012 edition of B Beyond magazine, along with pictures taken at the Pickens’ Mesa Vista ranch.

BB. The Pickens Plan makes two overwhelming arguments – one is global and has to do with sustainable energy; the other is US-specific and makes the case for liberating the country from OPEC oil-dependency, among other things. Why then, in your opinion, has the Pickens Plan been facing resistance from legislators?

TB. I do in fact have a lot of support for it but it’s generally very hard to get something to the Senate floor and get it voted in. The plan is not complicated and we have an extensive paper on it. Now that the Natural Gas Act has been introduced, this will hopefully set the country in the right direction of making better use of its own energy resources. I do believe that if the Act doesn’t pass through Senate this year (2011), it will pass next year.

BB Have you been promoting the plan for a good long time now?

TB. I started it in July of ’08.

BB We think the plan ought to have been adopted sooner

TB. It should have – but things in Washington happen very slowly.

BB. As indeed everywhere else, yes. Are there any other practical barriers, never mind legislative barriers, to implementing the Pickens Plan, such as the expense of converting the grid or converting vehicles from using oil to natural gas consumption?

TB. The Natural Gas Act didn’t have anything to do with the grid – it referred to using natural gas for heavy duty trucks.

Below is a model for what you could save on transportation fuel.

70% of all the oil produced in the world every day goes for transportation fuel and if you want to reduce the imports of OPEC oil, you have to start with transportation. I have focused on that because natural gas is so cheap. Unfortunately, with natural gas prices so low, it has made wind energy uneconomical. But if you look at the cost of each one of the fuels on a megawatt hour, the most expensive is solar at $200 megawatt hour while biomass is $140, nuclear is $125, geothermal is $99, wind is $80, coal is $73 and natural gas is $62. Natural gas is therefore the most economical energy source, so long as you have a lot of it and the price remains constant. If and when natural gas prices go up to $6, then you can get serious about wind energy projects.

The Pickens Plan demonstrates that we can cut OPEC oil imports by half over 5 years. You don’t need a special government department to implement or administer it, which makes it an even more attractive proposition.

BB. But would the vehicles have to be converted from oil to natural gas consumption?

TB. What you do is, as you buy new vehicles you just replace them with the natural gas engine.

BB Would that be very costly?

TB The consumer will get a tax credit of around $20,000 to $30,000 and that tax credit will be covered by a user tax on the fuel. Once you get to that point, the price of a natural gas engine will go down and become very competitive with diesel. Let me give you an example with trash trucks in the United States. Half the trash trucks next year will be on natural gas – while incremental difference between diesel and natural gas trash trucks was about $50,000 five years ago, it’s now $10,000.

BB. You certainly know your figures.

TB. Well, I have been at it for so long. I have been in the business since I got out of school in 1951, so 60 years now.

BB The energy crisis is not just US specific – the entire world faces some kind of an energy crisis.

TB Energy is confusing to most people and in America in particular people do not understand the energy available to us. I am sitting here today looking at the screen: natural gas is selling for $3.59 while the Mid-East price is between $16 and $18, because it’s indexed to oil, and in London it’s $13. So here we are, we have the cheapest energy in the world in this country which is incredible. We have more natural gas than any other country in the world – more than Russia or Iran, but the missing link in America is leadership. The leadership does not understand energy and how we can move industry back in here and create more jobs. We can clearly show them that if they pass this bill you can create jobs for $10,000 a piece which is unheard of but, you know, they don’t pay attention to it. They hear what you say but they don’t listen.

BB. Why do you think that is, I mean is it just the present government or politicians in general?

TB Well, we couldn’t get the Bush government to do anything either. The chemical industry is against the energy plan because they want very cheap natural gas, which gives them huge profit margins. They are making more money than they have ever made in history and they have done it off of cheap natural gas. But you also have major oil companies that are against the energy plan. For instance 80% of Exxon’s revenues come from foreign oil. They import a lot of OPEC oil and refine it and sell it of course for gasoline and diesel in this country. So we are up against many vested interests which work hard for their shareholders – that’s the capitalistic system.

But I’m working hard for America. My goal is to get an energy plan for America. We are the only country in the world that has no energy plan yet we use 20 million barrels of oil a day. The world produces 90 million barrels of oil a day and the closest consumer to us is China – the Chinese use 10 million barrels a day. So they use half what we do, but they do have an energy plan: the Wall Street Journal said six months ago that the United States has not bought Boone Pickens’ energy plan but the Chinese have.

Categories
Philanthropy

Nicolas Berggruen on the crisis in the West


Nicolas Berggruen is the founder of the Berggruen Institute and its 21st Century Council. The 21st Century Council is a forum for dialogue and action on issues of global governance that recognizes the radical power-shift underway in geopolitics reflected in the rise of the G-20 as the key governing body of globalization.

Below is an extract from the interview Berggruen gave B Beyond Magazine last month. The full text will appear in the 2012 Spring edition.

BB: You are a strong advocate for improving democracy and governance in the western developing economies. In your view, what is lacking in the current system? And where do you see room for most improvement?

NB: All Western democracies are suffering right now. There are a number of reasons for this, such as increasing globalisation on one hand and the rising economic power of the East on the other, with the inherent competition from that part of the world, in particular China.

The Western systems and democracies should be rightly credited for having been hugely progressive, not least in terms of the social contract they established with their respective populations, which has resulted in a very high standard of living. This contract, however, can no longer be sustained in the face of growing competition from the East. Additionally, most Western democracies are not sufficiently flexible to compete very well with the East.

Making an adjustment is clearly a very painful process all round. Political leaders are in a difficult position because implementing unpopular changes would cost them an election – or a re-election.

Matters are made even more complicated by the fact that changes need to be agreed upon by both sides of the electorate and as ever, the right is opposed to higher taxation, while the left is neither prepared to give up what it perceives as its entitlements, nor does it want to pay more tax.
Politicians seldom have the courage to address the above or if they have, their political parties wouldn’t allow them to.
This means the entire system needs to be restructured beyond the partisan – beyond the political agenda.

BB: If we look back far enough in history, we know that relative poverty (not absolute poverty) has always contributed or led to massive upheaval in societies. Nouriel Roubini was recently quoted as saying there may even be World War 3? Do you share this opinion?

NB: No, I don’t. But I think that people in the West are rightly concerned that the present generation of young people don’t have the opportunities that their parents had. I think that’s true, I think the opportunities are no longer there.

BB. And will not be there for the foreseeable future?

NB: They will be, but we have to implement reforms if we want to keep the same standard of living (the alternative is to lower the standard of living).
We are in a much different world, much more competitive, and some difficult choices have to be made. Clearly, protesters everywhere are sending a message to politicians, which is ‘we are not happy with your leadership, address these problems’.

Politicians have to come out and say, ‘these are the issues, we inherited them’, which is true – from Mrs Merkel to Obama to David Cameron, they all inherited these issues and they have to deal with them. And dealing with them is painful – you’re hurting vested interests everywhere in the process. I don’t envy them but it has to be done.

BB: If God himself suddenly gave the 21st Century council the executive power to change things, let’s say in Europe- let’s say we had a referendum and you could run a referendum – what would you do?

NB: We would give people a choice. Do they want something that will function more as a federation or less? Are they going to federate certain things, or not? They should have the choice to decide, but on a fully informed basis. Most people in European countries today are not that concerned about Europe – they don’t know that ultimately they will have to make the decision of being in or out of Europe, of centralising or not.

BB: What are the 21st Century Council’s recommendations for Europe?

NB: We would recommend that you first have a different system – direct parliamentary elections for individuals that the voter would recognise and feel some affinity with, as opposed to the existing system which is fairly anonymous.

BB: Would people vote for individuals rather than parties?

NB: In my mind they would – this of course is subject to discussion – but in any event I think they should vote for parties that will support people all across Europe, so that you have much more dynamic and vibrant elections.

BB: So European parties rather than national parties?

NB: Correct.

BB: But they would still be traditionally centred i.e. left of the centre – right of the centre.

NB: Most likely. Then you have Europe-wide elections and the central power would have jurisdiction over a number of different things, which need to be decided, such as fiscal, defence, foreign policy, probably energy policy, transportation… key things. Local power would still exist for everything else – education, language, religion – everything that is country or culture-specific would remain so, but the rest would be federated.

BB: So there would be a government of Europe, essentially?

NB: There already is today, but it doesn’t have any power.

BB: If such a government had executive power, do you think the recession could have been avoided in Europe at least?

NB: Well, for sure, because central power can issue money. If you can issue money you’ve got a lot of power, including the power to tax and therefore the ability to push for reforms. Is it easy? No. Will it happen in a day? No. But what I’m saying is that if you have that kind of power you can run a currency. Today the currency is being run without the normal kinds of power that come with it. If you can’t issue currency, you can’t regulate money. If you can’t regulate money you can’t run an economy.

BB: Following you reasoning, could the financial crisis have been avoided in America?

NB: No, but at least America was able to act pretty forcefully and pretty quickly.

America is not in a recession right now. It could go into recession, but at least America has the power to overhaul its system.

If America hadn’t acted when it did, the world would have gone into depression; so what America did was incredibly helpful – to America itself but also to the world.
If Europe cannot get its act together now and goes into a very bad recession, that could have a global effect, put America into a recession again, and the rest of the world too.
So the problem is serious and it is a structural one. That is exactly the kind of thing that we, at the Institute, are interested in – structural issues, such as those happening in Europe and in California.

America has a lot of issues. But the one thing that it can do, and did, is react fairly quickly; it should have done so earlier, but the main thing is that it did. When you have a crisis, you have to come up with a plan and act on it. Europe is not able to come up with a plan and not able to act. That’s the crisis here.

BB: Please, define Europe in the above context.

NB: All the constituent countries of the EEC today.

BB: If they were all to rubber-stamp a plan of action and get on with it, you reckon things would get better very quickly?

NB: Yes, for sure. This would create cohesion, political leadership…

If everyone works together, this would immediately stabilise the financial markets. Financial markets are forcing the hands of the leadership in Europe – because the markets are bigger today than any government, that’s the reality.

If they see political will to deal with the issue, markets would calm down very quickly. That’s what happened in America: the government took some measures and everything stabilised. There are, of course, still a lot of unresolved issues but the crisis we have today is directly related to the fact that the government didn’t go far enough at the time of the previous economic crisis.

BB: What could they have done better?

NB: Firstly, the global financial system wasn’t properly addressed at the time.

Secondly, Europe didn’t address its structural problem, something that is evident today. These are the two key things that weren’t addressed at the time and are now surfacing.

The financial system worldwide today is still fairly dysfunctional, the banks are probably undercapitalised and Europe is structurally not complete. Europe being structurally deficient today has created this crisis.

Individual debt was shifted to governments. Governments suddenly, in the eyes of the market, are no longer able to sustain themselves – they’re being attacked and they can’t respond to it. These are now symptoms of not having dealt with everything two years ago, and also not having dealt with the structural deficiency of Europe.