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Robert B. Zoellick: “We Tried Autarky in the 1930s. It Didn’t Work Very Well”

Robert B. Zoellick
 

By Robert B. Zoellick and Jeffrey Gedmin (original source The American Interest)

“TAI’s Jeffrey Gedmin recently spoke with Robert B. Zoellick—former President of the World Bank (2007-2012), U.S. Deputy Secretary of State (2005-2006), and U.S. Trade Representative (2001-2005)—about the coronavirus pandemic, relations with China, and his upcoming book about the history of American foreign policy. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jeffrey Gedmin for TAI: Bob, we know you as a voracious reader, so we’re curious—what are you reading these days, and what books do you recommend from the last quarter or so?

Robert R. Zoellick: Well, I’m reading two very different books. I’ve gone back to Sir Michael Howard’s translation, with Peter Paret, of Clausewitz’s On War. I’ve never read it cover to cover, and I’m enjoying that while also trying to think about its possible applications to diplomacy. The other book is The Virginian by Owen Wister, from 1902, an early Western novel, which my wife recommended. I’m reading The Virginian in part because the author was a very good friend of Teddy Roosevelt. I’m getting a little feel of the West as T.R. must have thought about it.

There are two other recent books that I would recommend. One is Narrative Economics by Robert Shiller at Yale. It’s within the framework of behavioral economics; he’s trying to explore how the spread of people’s stories affect economic behavior. In some ways it’s extraordinarily timely, because while Shiller wrote the book ahead of coronavirus, he uses epidemiology as the method to understand how stories spread. It’s an early effort to understand how mass psychology shapes economic behavior. Shiller reviews eight or nine common arguments about how people perceive the economy—which prompts reflection, because you see how these ideas recur time and time again.

The other book is also short. Eric Foner, the historian of Reconstruction, published a book last year called The Second Founding. It’s a history of the Reconstruction amendments—13, 14, and 15—the Civil Rights Acts, and then the judicial treatment of those provisions. Foner offers a perspective on how the rights revolution of that era was turned back by court rulings. His history of the Reconstruction amendments, the debates in Congress, and the divisions in the country is fascinating.”

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