Peter Peterson
Co-Founder, The Blackstone Group; Chairman Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations
04:53

How do you contribute?

How do you contribute?

When he got the chance to serve the government, Peterson couldn't not take it.

Peter Peterson

Peter G. Peterson is an American entrepreneur, investment banker and politician. He served as United States Secretary of Commerce during the Nixon administration and was Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations Council on Foreign Relations until his retirement in 2007. Peter co-founded the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, in 1985 and retired in 2008 as its Senior Chairman.  He is the author of the book Running On Empty: How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. Peterson was Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2000 to 2004 and is founding Chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Transcript

If any. Yeah. Well I . . . With this foundation, I’m trying to make an incremental change. I got very, very concerned 15 years ago about the fiscal affairs of this country, and I co-founded something called the Concord Coalition with Warren Redman and Paul Saunders. And we’re devoting this organization to long term fiscal responsibility and generational responsibility, because I think we’re being irresponsible to our children and grandchildren. And I know morality doesn’t sound very convincing coming from an investment banker, but there was a German theologian named Bonhoeffer who once said, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.” And I think what we’re doing now is immoral. It’s very unfair to our children and grandchildren. So I think if I have a contribution to make, it might be at the margin to try to get us to confront these long term, daunting, undeniable and unsustainable economic challenges. Some are in the field of healthcare costs, and energy, and entitlement, Social Security and Medicare. There’s certainly one huge problem that affects not only America’s future, but everybody’s future, which of course is the transcendence of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists. And I will be supporting – along with Warren Buffet from Nebraska, a fellow Nebraskan – a substantial investment in what former Senator Sam Young is doing called the Nuclear Threat Initiative to doing everything we possibly can to reduce that threat. Whether this will make any difference, how do I know? But I know one thing: I’ll feel a lot better. And I’ll know that I’m kind of doing what my father and mother wanted me to do, which is . . . My father only knew one American song, “God Bless America”. And every time he sang it, tears ran down his cheek. And when I was up for the job in the White House, I remember calling him and asking him. And it was a decision because I had five children. In Washington the schools were very bad. And while I was in public schools in Chicago, I would probably have to go to private schools, maybe $42,000 and giving up all kinds of stock options and so forth. And his response was just like mine: “How could you possibly not do it for this country?” So I think if he were alive today, he would be glad to see me attempting to give back something. I’ve been very moved by a story I heard from Kurt Vonnegut the novelist and Joel ______. And they’re at a hedge fund manager’s party in the end Long Island, a very rich, big home and so forth. And Vonnegut says to ________, “Does it bother you, Joe, that this guy makes more money in a day than you make selling “Catch-22”, one of the great novels all over the world?” Haler says, “Kurt, no. Because I’ve got something that he doesn’t have.” And Vonnegut was shocked. He said, “What could you possibly have that this guy doesn’t have?” And ________ says, “I know the meaning of enough.” And I think my father was an extremely generous person philanthropically, both to the less fortunate in America and to his terribly poor village in Greece. And I think it takes us too long, or sometimes we never learn the lesson of what “enough” means in life. So maybe I’ve learned to know that awfully late. Recorded On: 7/26/07

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