Former U.S. ambassador Rev. Andrew Young

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Former U.N. ambassador comments on the impact of the current state of U.S. politics on global economic decisions.

After serving as a top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights legend Andrew Young went on to serve three terms in Congress and help draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The former two-term mayor of Atlanta was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President Carter and co-chaired the '96 Olympic Games. Young is co-founder of the global advisory firm GoodWorks International and serves on numerous boards. In his book Walk in My Shoes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient offers his wisdom to a new generation.


Tavis: Andrew Young is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta mayor who was, of course, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement, led by his abiding friend, Dr. King. His latest text is called “Walk in My Shoes: Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson.” He joins us tonight from Atlanta. Mr. Ambassador, an honor, sir, to have you back on the program.
Andrew Young: Well, it’s always good to be with you.
Tavis: Let me start by asking what the motivation was for writing this particular book of these conversations with your godson.
Young: Well, I’ll tell you what – this is a kid that started talking with me when he was in second grade, and we have been – we’re exactly 50 years apart. He’s 28 and I’m 78 now, and he’s been through Dartmouth and London School of Economics, he’s now a banker with JP Morgan.
But we’ve always been good friends, and he would call me with all of his problems and I just decided that this was a rare opportunity, for one thing, because he was in banking and I was having trouble understanding what was happening in the economy.
I was learning from him. He was trying to get out of banking into politics at one point, and I began to say that you’re in banking, most of our political problems are economic, and we need some of our bright, young, dedicated minds trying to figure out a global economy.
So he has stayed, and he’s been assigned to South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, London, and it’s just made for a good conversation with him asking me what I think, because most of these places I have been – in fact, one of my blessings is that I’ve probably been to close to 150 countries around the world, and I’ve met with leaders over the last 25 years. So I have pretty strong opinions. (Laughter)
He likes to challenge my opinions, and of course I like to provoke his thinking, because I don’t think we have the answers right now to today’s economic problems, and I think that blaming our president and blaming the Congress – but we’re in a global slump and it’s going to take the kind of vision that I think we see in our president now.
I think he’s probably doing more for the economy in India and Indonesia and China than he could do just with national stimulus projects. So it’s because I think the next generation, which includes Kabir Sehgal, my godson, and my children. They’re going to have to work with Brazil, with Mexico, and we got a Congress where half of the people don’t even have a passport.
They’re trying to run the world from a Tea Party, and it just won’t work.
Tavis: Let me ask you a couple of questions right quick, relative to what you’ve said already. First question is I wonder how much of the drama that we are enduring as a country now, I mean politically, socially, economically and culturally, Mr. Ambassador, has to do with a lack of conversation between the generations.
I love the fact that you’re 78 and he’s 28, but how much of our drama has to do with the fact that we’re not talking intergenerationally?
Young: Well, a lot of it does. You see, I was in the banking committee in 1973 when they left the economic views of John Maynard Keynes, which had led the country and the world from 1944 in Bretton Woods until Nixon came in and changed the Bretton Woods agreements and we switched from the Keynes economics to Milton Friedman, and nobody understood that.
We never went back to discuss it. I was in the Congress; Congress didn’t know what they were doing. Most of the congresspeople are lawyers. We had an economist who was the chair of that International Finance Committee, Royce, but he was intimidated by Arthur Burns and George Schultz and Paul Volker.
Watergate broke three weeks later and we never got back to discuss how we got from a stable, global economy where everybody was growing at a 5 to 7 percent, some of them as much as 10 percent, to this rollercoaster economy that we have had since the late ’70s.
It seems like we went from a gold standard which everybody agreed to, to an oil standard which nobody fully understands who’s pulling the strings. But there’s some basic economic discussions that we need across generations and that we need, frankly, across national lines, because these are global issues now.
Tavis: When you say that it – you said a moment ago it concerns you that the members of Congress today don’t really understand what we’re up against and they don’t really have the answers, if you’re right about that, how troubled should we be by the fact that Andy Young doesn’t think that the members of Congress understand or have the answers to the crisis that we’re going through?
Young: Well, what we found in this last election was a lot of people panicking at the complexity of a global economy. So they’re saying, “Let’s take our country back.” They mean let’s take our economy back. Let’s go back to where we used to run things. Then all of a sudden the Chinese say, “Well, wait a minute – you owe us one, two, three, four, five.”
Now, we can no longer make national decisions in isolation. We couldn’t even make them in 1944 after the Second World War. We had fought a war to teach us that we could not live in a world without being related to friend and foe alike, and we had an economy that helped us do that.
Now, we never stopped to understand it, and we always felt like we were running things, and we are. But the American public has not kept up with this dialogue, and I have not kept up with it. I’m a preacher. But I probably have read more books on the economy in the last year than I did in all of the preaching time I’ve been preaching, because I don’t know what’s going on.
I don’t understand hedge funds. Derivatives are a mystery religion to me, and they are to most of the members of Congress. They probably are too many members of the banking committee. I think that we’re blessed that we have a president that at least is smart enough to try to figure it out, but I think he ought to listen a little more to his wife. (Laughter)
Roosevelt didn’t really begin to get the message from the people until Eleanor Roosevelt began to assert herself. Even Nancy Reagan had to clean out the people who were manipulating Ronald Reagan and get him to focus in different ways. Rosalyn Carter sat in every Cabinet meeting. She never said anything in the Cabinet meetings, but I know she said a lot when she got upstairs. (Laughs)
Even Barbara Bush and Laura Bush – Laura Bush brought us back into the UNESCO without so much as a controversy. This was something I struggled with when I was at the U.N. Laura Bush just packed up and took her reading program to Paris and the State Department backed off and we solved a problem we had been generating for 20 years.
We need someone who’s from a working class background who has the kind of education, and ironically, the economists that I’ve read from Princeton are quite different from the economists from University of Chicago and Harvard. So we really need a national dialogue across generational lines, across class lines, and we need to figure out how to make democracy and free enterprise work for the poor as it works for the upper class.
Tavis: Let me ask you to that point, let me offer this, if I can, Mr. Ambassador, as the exit question. Given what you’ve just said now about the poor and about the working class, I wonder finally whether or not you think what we saw happen on this past Election Day was more about Americans being angry or more about Americans being afraid – afraid of the future, afraid for their families, afraid of whatever is coming down the pike as opposed to being angry at somebody.
Young: Well, I think you’re absolutely right. I think what we see is people acting out of fear and anxiety, and anxiety and fear are very close to each other. For the first time, this was not poor people rebelling. This was a class rebelling from the middle class.
They think that the government is taking more from them than it ought to, but the truth of it is the top 1 percent of the population now is controlling more than 25 percent of the wealth, and it’s the upper upper class that is sucking the life out of the middle class and not reinvesting in the middle class, and I think that’s what I read from some of the Princeton economists.
I don’t hear that from the Harvard and University of Chicago economists, though some of the University of Chicago economists are now challenging and questioning the greed assumptions and profit assumptions of Milton Friedman. But this is just a beginner’s economic dialogue, and I tell kids nowadays, when they say, “I want to be a lawyer because of Thurgood Marshall,” I say, “Yeah, but we needed Thurgood Marshall when he went to law school and helped us adjust to the Constitution, but we need some people now to go to understand a global economy, and we need to have people learning to understand that economy in more than one language.”
Though most people speak English and English is the language of economics for the most part, I think to get global agreements we’re going to have to have the kind of sensitivity that I think our president has got to develop. It’s in his DNA, but it is not in the people who are advising him.
Tavis: On that note, I want to thank Ambassador Andrew Young for coming on this program tonight. His new book is called “Walk in My Shoes: Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson.” On the journey ahead and some of what we’ve been talking about tonight, he and his godson have some interesting conversations about in this book. Mr. Ambassador, good to have you on this program, as always, sir.
Young: Okay, and look forward to seeing you soon.
Tavis: I hope so. Thank you, sir.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm