Patrick Byrne: What is the world's greatest challenge in the coming decade?

Patrick M. Byrne is the CEO of the Internet retailer Byrne received his B.A. from Dartmouth, studied at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University. He co-founded in 1997 and became CEO in 1999. In 2005, Byrne initiated a controversial campaign against "naked short selling" in which he accused a "Sith Lord" and various financial firms of sabotaging Overstock's share price. Byrne also serves as head of First Class Education, an education lobbying group that seeks to require that 65% of all educational spending be spent "in the classroom." A strong proponent of school vouchers, Byrne spent almost four million dollars in advertising for a bill that would have given Utah residents who enroll their children in private schools taxpayer-supported subsidies. The bill lost, 62-38%.

  • Transcript


Patrick Byrne: There’s the environment, and I think that I can summarize it quickly. When in doubt, err on the side of the planet. There’s still some scientific question . . . I don’t think there’s any scientific question about global warming. There’s some scientific question about man’s contribution to global warming and how much is generated by us. I think that that uncertainty has created too much political indecision. When in doubt, err on the side of the planet. It may be too late. In fact the . . . the . . . Who’s the British fellow who founded the ...hypothesis? James Lovelock or something? He believes it’s too late. If we have a chance, it would be a radical shift in our energy consumption – either radical reduction . . . We can’t . . . I’m a big fan of alternative energy. I don’t think we can get there fast enough. We probably . . . (52:34) I’m a pro new environmentalist. I think if we have any chance, it would be through a rapid development of nuclear power; but . . . and I think politically that’s not gonna happen because of the United States ... syndrome. So I’m not . . . I think that one of the two big international issues is the environment. And I’m not happy about our chances in really winning that in the next 50 years. And by then it’ll be too late if it’s not now.

And then the other is the Middle East. I think that the rest of the world pretty much plays by a set of rules that everybody knows. It’s a little bit like in corporate law, there’s a court in Delaware called the Court of Chancellery or something. And everybody already knows how it decides. It’s got this very stable system, and that means that law suits rarely have to go all the way in Delaware because it’s so predictable. Everybody knows how it’s gonna be decided, and so they save themselves all those transaction costs. And in interna . . . In international competition, that’s basically the case throughout the world other than the Middle East. And the Middle East is such a . . . is such a . . . Well I’ll put it this way. I really think that there’s three groups that are . . . that matter in the Middle East. And it’s not . . . religion . . . I don’t see the Middle East conflict as a religious conflict. If you’re gonna get kids to blow themselves with dynamite, you need a beer jingle. And the beer jingle can be . . . there’s different jingles for the different kids. But the real issue in the Middle East is there’s crooks and there’s fanatics. And there’s a small number of moderates. And we back the crooks ‘cause we’re trying . . . We the United States back the crooks because we’re trying to get them . . . we think they’re fighting the fanatics for us. In fact, we don’t understand that the crooks and the fanatics have a relationship of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”. In the process we’re overlooking the small – but it exists – the small moderate class. And if there’s any hope in the Middle East, it would be finding them, and working with them, and sort of building civil society around them. But don’t hold your breath.

Recorded on: 10/29/07