St. Anthony: Global risk expert to urge U.S. flexibility at Nobel conference

Despite global tensions, Ian Bremmer counsels global engagement to achieve meaningful agreements.

Ian Bremmer

Photo: , Eurasia Group

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Ian Bremmer analyzes how international developments in this messy, fragmented world affect markets and investments.

“I’m an upbeat guy,” said Bremer, 44, founder and president of the ­Eurasia Group, which counsels about 400 institutional investors, corporations and governments around the globe.

His optimism sounds surprising, particularly after a 45-minute discussion that ranged from Chinese pollution to America’s troubled alliances, expanded political unrest and refugees in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin.

Bremmer, the creator of Wall Street’s first global risk index, also is a regular contributor to top financial and foreign policy publications.

“I always wanted to be a political scientist, but one who would write things that people would read,” ­Bremmer said.

Bremmer will be the keynote speaker Friday on Law and Business Day at this week’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum, the annual convocation hosted by Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. It is the only such forum granted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute and dedicated to inspiring peacemaking through commerce, law, science and faith.

“I want to talk to the Nobel forum, which wants us to get it right globally, because you can’t have peace in this world without paying attention to different perspectives,” Bremmer said. “We have to come to real agreements, sometimes with people who don’t share our values. America needs to understand how different is the rest of the world, not because it’s the right thing to do but because it matters.”

Bremmer is a critic of the America-Right-or-Wrong camp that constantly extols “U.S. exceptionalism and hegemony that gets us into trouble.”

U.S. companies will need to be increasingly nimble in global commerce because many countries listen to us less and we at times can’t even seem to get on the same page with allied democracies.

Bremmer’s 2012 book about the confederation of the world’s 20 largest economies was titled “Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World.’’

Globalization is messy, many U.S. companies have learned. Many companies “went global” before the Great Recession to take advantage of developing nations that put out a welcome mat for American investment and offered hungry workers and low wages. We’ve since entered a new phase of “guarded globalization,” Bremmer said. Governments are more protective of local industries.

An entrepreneur, Bremmer grew up in public housing projects outside Boston, after his dad died when Bremmer was 4. He went to college on scholarships and earned a doctorate from Stanford. He scratched together $25,000 in 1994 to start what is now a 150-employee firm that charges blue-chip clients several hundred bucks an hour. He lives in a Manhattan townhouse.

The Eurasia Group, which declines to specify its Minnesota clients, focuses extensively on the linkage between a country’s ability to feed its people and political stability.

A few Bremmer observations:

China’s central government knows it can’t build a sustainable economy while killing citizens with air and water pollution, and is under tremendous pressure from its middle and upper classes in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. But the transition will be slow. Hundreds of millions of Chinese in the less-affluent north still use subsidized coal to generate electricity and heat their homes.

Iran seems to be moderating, and there is early success in the quest for a negotiated settlement over its nuclear aspirations that would lead to an easing of tensions. If that happens, it will be a big victory for the Obama administration. Iran’s people are tired of right-wing religious dogma, economic hardship, environmental degradation and water shortages.

The BRICs: Yesterday’s fastest-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China all have their own internal problems. In the end we have mutual interests. And the U.S. will grow faster this year than at least Brazil and Russia, which is still running an economy largely driven not by freedom and innovation but by oil and gas and government-picked winners.

“The real problem in the U.S. is that we could be doing so much better,” Bremmer said. “We have intrinsic advantages. We’re entrepreneurial, we’re the world’s largest economy and a growing energy producer. We’re productive, we don’t have dangers on our borders and we have political stability. The [income equality] gap is expanding, but our poor people would feel pretty rich in China.”

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