Posts Tagged ‘profile’

Obama as anthropologist

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

FT columnist Simon Kuper has written the best profile of President Barack Obama that I have ever seen. Here are extracts from his outstanding column.

Obama … has identified the “dominant figure in my formative years” as his mother, Ann Dunham. She was an anthropologist — a scholar who studies foreign cultures. Being an anthropologist’s son myself (though, unlike Obama, I actually was born in east Africa), I’ve always sensed that the family business explains a lot about his presidency. ….

When he was six, his mother took him to Indonesia, where she had married a local man. There she began what became her magnum opus: a study of peasant blacksmiths on Java. ….

Aged 10, he returned to Hawaii, where he was born, to live with his grandparents but he continued visiting his mother in Indonesia. ….

Even in Hawaii, Obama remained an outsider. The state was nearly five hours’ flight from the continental US, and hardly any black people lived there. …. It’s wrong to understand Obama chiefly as a product of his ethnic identity, or as a mainstream American liberal like his mother. Rather, he wasn’t raised in any group.

The “birther” jibes, therefore, aren’t simple racism against a black president. After all, although black Americans suffer horrible discrimination, hardly anyone questions their Americanness. Instead, birthers are pointing up Obama’s perceived foreignness.

Viewing the US from the outside, President Obama never seems to have bought the notion that it is an exceptional country with a superior culture and God-given duty to save the world. Asked on his first trip overseas as president whether he believed in American exceptionalism, he replied: “I believe in American exceptionalism. Just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

That upset some voters. Obama can seem apart from his own country, haughty, almost a foreigner in the White House.

Simon Kuper, “Barack Obama: anthropologist-in-chief“, Financial Times, 22 September 2016 (metered paywall).

There is much more in the full column. If you are not a subscriber to FT, I encourage you to register at the link above for a free download of Mr Kuper’s essay.

British journalist Simon Kuper was born in Uganda of South African parents in 1969. His father was an anthropologist. Mr Kuper studied History and German at Oxford University and now lives in Paris with his family.

the CEO of Wells Fargo

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

FT columnist Gary Silverman has written a surprisingly positive profile of John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo, a huge bank that is embroiled in a huge scandal. Mr Stumpf, writes Mr Silverman, “still has friends on Wall Street”.

Mr Stumpf was … a country boy who grew up as one of 11 children on a Minnesota farm where he shared a bed with two of his brothers.

“I never got to sleep alone until I got married,” he likes to say. ….

[H]e was the rare big banker who emerged from the turmoil of the past decade with his public image relatively intact.

Last week, however, Mr Stumpf’s long run of good fortune came to an end. ….

Mr Stumpf, who is due to retire when he turns 65 in two years, said this week he has no plans to step down because of the scandal. But the pressure on him to go could very well increase.

Gary Silverman, “John Stumpf, the labrador of Main Street“, Financial Times, 16 September 2016 (metered paywall).

the character of Hillary Clinton

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Edward Luce, the FT’s chief US columnist, interviews Robert McNeely, who for six years was White House photographer with the Clintons.

“People say she is only able to run for the presidency because she is married to Bill Clinton,” says McNeely. “That could be true. But I can’t imagine Bill would have made it to the White House without Hillary.” ….

I ask McNeely what Clinton’s years as first lady tell us about the kind of president she would be. McNeely evaluates what he sees as her core traits. “She is very quick to judge people,” he says. “If Bill senses someone doesn’t like him, he will spend hours trying to convert that person. Hillary doesn’t bother.” …. McNeely says the calibre of her hires was generally higher. But she is also less Socratic. “She would spend a lot of time selecting the right people,” he says. “But my sense is that any aide who disagrees with her on the big subjects won’t last very long in the job.” Most importantly, she will always know more about her brief than anyone else. Grasp of detail will never be her weak point, though lack of an overarching vision has been. “There isn’t a person in the world who can outwork Hillary Clinton,” says McNeely. “Isn’t it funny that her opponent in this election is the laziest mind in the western world?”

Edward Luce, “The making of Hillary Clinton: unpublished images of a would-be president“, Financial Times Magazine, 6 August 2016 (metered paywall).

This long column (with photos by McNeely) is interesting throughout. Robert McNeely’s book, The Making of Hillary Clinton: The White House Years, will be published in January 2017 by the University of Texas Press.


the FT at lunch with Charles Koch

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Charles Koch (born 1935) and his younger brother David (born 1940) are billionaires who contribute generously to conservative causes and Republican candidates. Leftist Americans view the Koch brothers as villains, as a danger to democracy. I was thus surprised to learn today that the elder Koch is unhappy with Donald Trump, a billionaire who leads the Republican race for nomination as candidate for president. Policies proposed by Ted Cruz, another Republican front-runner, are also anathema to him. Indeed, many of Koch’s views are close to those of Bernie Sanders, a self-styled socialist who seeks nomination as Democratic candidate for president.

All became clear once I understood that Charles Koch is not a conservative. He is a libertarian.

I ask [Charles Koch] … about [Donald] Trump’s assertion that the US could require all Muslims in the country to register with the government.

“Well, then you destroy our free society,” Koch says of the idea. “Who is it that said, ‘If you want to defend your liberty, the first thing you’ve got to do is defend the liberty of people you like the least’?” ….

It’s a view that also contrasts with that of another Republican frontrunner; Ted Cruz’s plan to carpet-bomb Isis strongholds is anathema to Koch. “I’ve studied revolutionaries a lot,” he says. “Mao said that the people are the sea in which the revolutionary swims. Not that we don’t need to defend ourselves and have better intelligence and all that, but how do we create an unfriendly sea for the terrorists in the Muslim communities? We haven’t done a good job of that.” With about 1.6bn Muslims worldwide “in country after country. What,” he asks, “are we going to do: go bomb each one of them?”

These particular views could almost have come from the mouth of Bernie Sanders, the socialist challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and a regular basher of the Kochs. ….

Through our conversation, there seems to be no issue to which smaller government, freer markets and unfettered competition is not the solution. “Our worst example in this country is the way we’ve treated Native Americans,” he says at one point. “A great portion of the property of the American Indians is held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They are not allowed to control their own.” Citing the high rate of unemployment among Native Americans, he says, “This is what this whole philosophy of control and dependency does. How do you have a life of meaning? It’s hopeless. So, you’re, oh well, they’re a bunch of alcoholics. Well, no kidding.”

Stephen Foley, “Lunch with the FT: Charles Koch“, Financial Times, 9 January 2016 (metered paywall).

There is much more in the full column.

Simon Kuper interviews Nobel laureate Jean Tirole

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

FT journalist Simon Kuper has published a wide-ranging interview of French economist Jean Tirole.

Tirole, explains Mr Kuper, “has long sat on the Council for Economic Analysis (CAE), advising prime ministers of right and left”, but has had little influence on government policy.

In part, that’s because economists aren’t heard or understood much in France. Tirole explains: “In France, in most universities you specialise very early but you don’t learn any economics. France came to a market economy pretty late, too. If you think about France, a lot of the decisions were administrative.”

a chat with MIT economist Esther Duflo

Friday, November 13th, 2015

The podcast crew recently traveled to Cambridge to speak with Esther Duflo, development economist and a co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT. ….

She and [Alphaville’s US editor] Cardiff [Garcia] discuss the latest findings in poverty economics, the importance of political institutions, the debates over the usefulness of randomised control trials and much more.

The full interview is below. Check back next week for a transcript of the conversation.

Our chat with Esther Duflo“, FT Alphaville, Chatterbox, 13 November 2015.

This 1.3 hour-long podcast, like all Chatterbox podcasts, can be downloaded at the link above, or at iTunes. No payment or registration is required. Enjoy!

Ben Bernanke at lunch with Martin Wolf

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

What a treat! Martin Wolf interviews former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke at lunch in Chicago.

Bernanke, in response to a question from Martin Wolf, says

“It’s ironic that the same people who criticise the Fed for helping the rich also criticise the Fed for hurting savers. And those two things are inconsistent. But what’s the alternative? Should the Fed not try to support a recovery?”

He continues, warming to his theme: “If people are unhappy with the effects of low interest rates, they should pressure Congress to do more on the fiscal side, and so have a less unbalanced monetary-fiscal policy mix. …. And this is certainly not an argument for the Fed to do nothing and let unemployment stay at 10 per cent.”

Other critics argue, I [Martin Wolf] note[s], that the Fed’s intervention prevented the cathartic effects of a proper depression. He teases me by responding that I have a remarkable ability to keep a straight face while recounting what he clearly considers crazy opinions.

Martin Wolf, “Lunch with the FT: Ben Bernanke“, Financial Times, 23 October 2015 (metered paywall).

Ben Bernanke (born 1953) chaired the central bank of the United States (the Federal Reserve) from 2006 to 2014.

Ban Ki-moon lunches with the FT

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Gillian Tett, US managing editor of the Financial Times, interviews Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean national who, more than eight years ago, replaced Kofi Annan as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Sixty-five years ago, as a [six-year-old] child in Korea, he [Ban] was forced to leave home when his village was sucked into the country’s brutal war. Ever since, he has felt a particularly strong affinity with victims of violence. ….

As a child, Ban idealised the United Nations — set up after the devastation of the second world war — as “a beacon!” But today, as it prepares to host its 70th General Assembly, pulling together representatives from all of its 193 countries, the organisation seems less beacon and more behemoth, and Ban, its secretary-general since 2007, has learnt the cruel limits of political power. ….

[The UN] has become a sprawling mess: it has 15 specialised agencies, 12 different funds, and a secretariat that employs more than 40,000 people, costing $5.5bn in 2014-15. To complicate matters, all members have an equal vote on issues — and the five members of the “security council” that serves as the UN’s inner sanctum (US, China, Russia, France and Britain) have a veto over decisions. That leaves the institution mired in gridlock.

The question that hovers over the UN as it faces its big birthday is whether it has now outlived its purpose. Does Ban have an utterly hopeless job?

Gillian Tett, “Lunch with the FT: Ban Ki-moon“, Financial Times, 19 September 2015 (gated paywall).

Ban, diplomatically, does not directly answer Ms Tett’s question. This is the closest he comes:

“If everything goes wrong, I become an easy scapegoat — we joke that ‘SG’, or secretary-general, is now standing for scapegoat,” he continues. “I don’t complain about this. But when there is a unity of purpose and solidarity among security council members, particularly the five permanent members, you can make real things.”

When did that unity last appear? “Two years ago,” he sighs. That was when the security council briefly agreed to monitor chemical weapons in Syria. Ban is now imploring the group to take wider action in that country. But, to his disappointment, Russia and China have vetoed this.

I interpret that to mean that Ban has a hopeless job.

David Warsh on Paul Krugman

Monday, September 14th, 2015

[Paul Krugman] joined The New York Times [in 2001] as one of its marquee op-ed columnists. ….

Krugman routinely establishes important truths – energy companies really did cheat in the California power auctions a few years ago; real business cycle theory really was a thirty year dead-end; conservative claims that that the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act led ineluctably to the crisis really are a Big Lie.  He has become as good a newspaper columnist as he was an economist – one of the best in the world. Just don’t count on him for the other side of the story.

David Warsh, “The Bubble, the Stampede, and the Aftermath“, Economic Principals, 13 September 2015.

I agree that Paul Krugman (born 1953) provides one-sided views that are routinely correct, and do not see this as a problem. Contrasting views are easy to find on the internet. Economists are frequently derided for prefacing opinions with the phrase “on one hand, and on the other hand”, so enjoy reading the books and columns of a one-handed economist

Journalist David Warsh (born 1944) specializes in economic and financial affairs. He wrote a column for The Boston Globe from 1978 until March 2002, when he moved the column from print media to his own website. He is  author of several books, including Economic Principals: Masters and Mavericks of Modern Economics (Free Press, 1993).

Thomas Piketty at lunch with the FT

Friday, June 26th, 2015

This is one of the best weekly “lunch with the FT” interviews that I have seen. French economist Thomas Piketty (born 1971) has achieved ‘rock-star’ status’ with the success of his 2013 bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, so is a particularly appropriate choice for inclusion in this series.

“Too often, economists build very complex mathematical models to look scientific and impress people. I have nothing against mathematics — I initially trained as a mathematician — but it’s usually to hide a lack of ideas. What pleases me is that this book reaches ‘normal’ people, a rather wide public. My mother is one example,” he says, adding that she rarely reads big academic books yet understood everything in his. ….

Piketty says his interest in inequality crystallised after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the first Gulf war. He recalls visiting Moscow in 1991 and being struck by “the lines in front of shops”. He came back vaccinated against communism — “I believe in capitalism, private property, the market” — but also with a question central to his work: “How come those people had been so afraid of inequality and capitalism in the 19th and 20th century that they created such a monstrosity? How can we tackle inequality without repeating this disaster?”

The first Gulf war, he believed, demonstrated the cynicism of the west: “We are told constantly that states can’t do anything, that it’s impossible to regulate the Cayman Islands and the other tax havens because they are too powerful, and all of a sudden we send a million soldiers 10,000km from home to allow the emir of Kuwait to keep his oil.”

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, “Lunch with the FT: Thomas Piketty“, Financial Times, 27 June 2015 (metered paywall).

There is much, much more in the full interview.