Quick Take: Hypocrisy, truth, & authenticity in today's environment

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here. And happy Tuesday to you. I've got a Quick Take starting a little bit later because heck, we had a day off yesterday. It was President's Day. I hope you all enjoyed it. And even in Texas, I know it's tough down there right now, and not much fun. Here in New York, it's actually starting to thaw, which I appreciate, Moose does too.

Want to talk a little bit about hypocrisy, about truth, about authenticity, and what it means in today's environment. There is so much of the news that is driven by people not being trustworthy, by fake news.

And what I see the last few days, of course, with the failed impeachment, not a surprise, but so many people at the beginning thought that Senate minority leader, now, McConnell was actually going to vote against Trump, and he did not. And instead, he said that this is not the domain for the Senate. It should go to the justices, or should go to a criminal case, or a civil case, which is, of course, false. It's all about just maintaining power for the Republican party.

I see the CDC in the United States now going back on guidance around opening schools that they had offered with the best of their healthcare expertise that they have because teachers' unions in the United States have so much influence over the Democratic party. And so, as a consequence, it's going to be very difficult to go ahead with those school openings with a lot of damage to the students continuing as a consequence. I can go on and on and on.

But what I think is important to understand is that your business model is your values. It is what you actually spend all of your time trying to accomplish and to maximize. Your business model is your values. And so frequently we look at what people say, and we look at their communication strategy, and we forget what their business model is. And so, understanding the fundamental drivers of an organization, or people that are leading that organization so much more important. When you join an organization, understanding that is absolutely critical.

And when I think about culture, you can change culture. If you change the... because culture is about the people. Who are the people in an organization? Do you like them? What are they like? How ambitious are they? How oriented are they towards other people? Are they introspective? Are they experts? Are they super intellectuals? Are they deeply aggressive? You can change culture. And, indeed, you can change priorities because leadership and management is all about which priorities you put lots of resource in, you put the most effort in. If you change out that leadership, you'll change the priorities, you'll change the orientation. But you can't change the values without changing the business model. And business models tend to be very sticky.

When I think about climate change, and the science on climate change is not perfect, but it has been overwhelmingly in one direction for decades now. And virtually all of the effort to push back against that science was about business models, which were fundamentally going to be undermined by moving towards the science. And that's not just true in terms of coal and fossil fuel companies, and infrastructure that relies on them, and also bureaucracies that are paid by those people, and other organizations and studies that are aligned to them. But we have seen this go on now for decades. And the arguments will change as is required by the business model.

So, for decades, we have people saying that climate is not changing, that the science is unproven. And that worked for a long time, and then it didn't. And so, then the fallback position was it's changing, but people aren't doing it. It's actually just natural cycles. And so, we shouldn't respond to it. And that worked for about a decade more or less in slowing things down. And then it's, well okay, no it is changing, and it is manmade. And the science has indeed proven we can't stop that anymore. But it certainly is way too expensive to respond to it, to resolve it.

And then, we see that in a surprisingly short amount of time, the cost of solar and of wind and other renewables can be brought down significantly, exponentially. And then, it's well no, but you can't rely on those energy sources. And that too, I mean, just this week with what we're seeing in Texas, and I'm getting all of this inbound today of people telling me about all of the wind that has been taken offline because of the freezing, which is true, but much more gas has been taken offline with the freezing both absolute amounts as well as percentage of total. But that, of course, is not a problem to vested interest. The business model matters.

Now, if you change the business model, if you start investing in a broader portfolio of different types of energy precisely because you understand that these things are changing over time and you take a longer-term perspective that will change your values. But many organizations didn't. And for those that didn't, their values are increasingly directly in opposition to science.

And it's not just that, I think about social media today. I think about Facebook today. I think about how much of what Facebook's comm strategy has been about how good it will be for all of us as individuals to be able to connect and put the best part of ourselves out publicly. And yet, of course, it causes massive amounts of emotional damage. And we know that the executives of these companies do not allow their own kids to have access to the platforms because they understand the addictiveness programmed into the algorithms. But the business model determines the values.

We know that Twitter would be so much less destructive as a place, if it did not have fake bots, people that aren't people that are doing nothing but promoting extreme views that are not differentiated by a lot of folks on Twitter as being real or fake. But those things are aligned with the business model because you make a lot more advertising revenue when you have a lot more people that are spending a lot more time, even if they're not real people, on the platform. Suddenly remove 50% of your users because they're not real, and suddenly your business model is much more problematic. So, it is about the business model.

Whatever your company sells, those are its core values. And if you want to unpack their actions and what they actually do, where they spend their money, what they lobby for, those are your values. If you're working for that organization, those become your values because that's what you are spending your time doing. And it particularly matters if you want to understand the United States, because in the US, the core, the dominant actors in determining the political agenda and strategy are the private sector actors, who capture the regulatory process. They're dominant in China. It's not, in China, it's the state. And so, you'd want to understand what's the business model fundamentally for the state, which is political stability, and not economic maximization. And when those two things come into contact, come into conflict the Chinese government overwhelmingly chooses political stability in ways that a lot of Americans, in the foreign policy establishment, frequently get wrong, because they assume that the Chinese also want to grow, grow, grow. Well, yes, except not if it's a threat to the communist party or the state.

And then, in Europe, you have the bureaucracy, the technocrats in Brussels who have most of the power. And individual states have less sovereignty, and private sector actors have less sovereignty. So, you want to understand the business model of a whole bunch of people that spend their entire careers in Brussels, reasonably well-paid, and aligned to the perpetuation of those institutions.

So, if you want to change your values, you need to change what you actually do. If you want to change a company's values, you need to change their business model. And that's much stickier and it's much harder to do. And in an environment where we are saying that increasingly capitalism does not work as presently constructed for a lot of average citizens, you can see why the United States is actually in a more difficult position to respond, because it's not the state that's going to have the influence. It's not the bureaucracy that's going to have the influence. It's the private sector actors themselves.

And so, one has to look into those private sector actors and see which of them have business models that are themselves most aligned with making the changes. Climate is now happening to a greater degree in the United States because with coronavirus you had this sudden mass acceleration of power towards a whole bunch of companies whose business models aren't aligned with undermining science on climate. And those that are, are vastly weaker than they used to be. But, on most other issues, that is a big challenge in the United States. Something we are going to spend a lot more time on going forward.

So, I hope that was worthwhile and interesting. Look forward to keeping in touch over the course of the week and going forward. Be good, stay safe, and avoid people.

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