'The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline'

Thursday, October 6, 2016
Jason Lee/Reuters
Jonathan Tepperman

Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs


President, Council on Foreign Relations

Jonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, joins CFR President Richard N. Haass to discuss his new book, The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline, which is about seemingly ineradicable global problems and the stories of the countries that solved them. Tepperman discusses the writing process, stories from the book, and the possibility of solving global problems at the international level.

HAASS: Good evening, and welcome, one and all, to the Council on Foreign Relations. I’m Richard Haass. And tonight we are here to launch the USS Fix. We’ve got Jon Tepperman, the author.

TEPPERMAN: Jonathan. (Laughter.)

HAASS: We also have Jonathan Tepperman. (Laughter.) We have two speakers tonight. (Laughter.)

And now this is not a book about home repair.


HAASS: This is not a book about gambling in sports.


HAASS: So what is it a book about, and why did we call it “The Fix”?

TEPPERMAN: That’s the question? I’m ready. (Laughter.)

HAASS: (Chuckles.)

TEPPERMAN: It wasn’t ready for that one.

Thank you all for coming, and thank you, Richard—

HAASS: Would you like another question?

TEPPERMAN: No, I’m happy with that.

HAASS: We can arrange that.

TEPPERMAN: The book is essentially—the book, I should say, starts with this premise, this conventional wisdom, that this is a time of a terrible decline; that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that we’re all screwed. My book is an attempt to counter that conventional wisdom by showing that many of our global problems, which everybody assumes are impossible to deal with, are not in fact insurmountable. And so each chapter tells the story of how one country—or, in one case, a city—somewhere in the world has overcome one supposedly impossible political or economic challenge. And these are problems that many countries have struggled with unsuccessfully for decades, ranging from Islamic extremism to how to recover from civil war, to corruption, to inequality, to political gridlock and on and on.

So it’s—the reason for the title is, it’s a series of fixes, 10 governments and 10 fixes to 10 enormous problems.

HAASS: What I should have added before Jonathan spoke is the subtitle is How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline.

Mr. Tepperman is also the managing editor—I’d say Foreign Affairs is the leading magazine, but that would suggest that there’s like others—(laughter)—and it’s so far ahead.

Am I allowed to give the statistics on the most recent—


HAASS: Now over 200,000 combined subscription and newsstand per issue, which is fantastic. So Jonathan and Gideon and Lynda and others deserve tremendous credit.

But in his spare time, when he’s not hawking the magazine on the streets of this city, he managed to write this.

Now he just described the conventional wisdom. So in all truth here, what you basically have is, I represent conventional wisdom. (Laughter.) And what you have here is Mr. Glass Half Empty sitting next to Mr. Glass Half Full. (Laughter.)

And so we—we’re approaching it from different directions. So let me be uncharacteristically open-minded and ask you about your 10 case studies. What do they have in common? What is it—what are the prerequisites of, if you will, successful interventions or things that end up getting fixed? What have you noticed that you that you see in most if not all of those situations?

TEPPERMAN: Right. Thank you, Richard. I didn’t start the book with a sort of unified field theory for how governments overcome these kind of problems. I started with the—first of all, a frustration with my profession’s tendency to focus exclusively on doom and gloom and not to look for solutions to problems, and—

HAASS: Are you against doom and gloom?

TEPPERMAN: I am against doom and gloom—

HAASS: (Chuckles.)

TEPPERMAN: —at least for the purposes of promoting this book. (Laughter.) And what I find is even in much of the literature in our field, when there’s lot of analysis and criticism and not so much focus on solutions, and when solutions are proposed, they tend to be offered at a very high level of abstraction. And one of the ways that I’ve always tried to keep myself honest as a writer about international affairs and government policy who criticizes policies a lot is by forcing myself to ask, OK, Tepperman, if you’re so smart, how would you do things differently? So that’s what got me into the process of looking for these kinds of answers.

But as I say, I started with—by identifying the countries that seemed to be fighting the—or countering the global trend, that seemed to be thriving while so many other countries were not. And then I tried to figure out how.

That said, having written—researched and reported the 10 chapters, I have been able to distill a few common themes, which I think are really important for a couple of reasons: one, because even these specific solutions are hard to port wholesale from one country to another, because obviously all countries are unique and their conditions are idiosyncratic, but also because I wanted the book to have applicability beyond just these 10 problems.

And the book is, as well as being a work on politics and economics, it’s inevitably a book about leadership as well. The chapters are written as—some of them—as narrative profiles of individual leaders or groups in government overcoming something together.

So what I decided to do in the conclusion was to try and distill from those—from all of those stories five or six lessons of leadership and problem-solving in politics that can be used in all sorts of contexts, I would argue, as well as in politics and in nonpolitical context.

HAASS: Do you want to reveal them, or you want to force people to buy the book? OK.

TEPPERMAN: Well, how about I give you three of the five today and you have to—

HAASS: This is the—

TEPPERMAN: I’m going to leave out the two best ones.

HAASS: This is the 60 percent answer—


HAASS: —and for the remaining 40 (percent) you’ve got to shell out.

TEPPERMAN: Number one, you need to embrace extremity or crisis. It’s no coincidence that in each of the stories that I tell, salvation came at a moment of existential peril for countries ranging from Mexico to Indonesia, to Brazil, to Singapore to—even to Canada, believe it or not. And the reason for that is simple.

Now countries face crises all the time, of course. That’s not anything special. But what the leaders that I write about were smart enough to recognize is that crises have this way of sweeping away the institutional and political roadblocks that ordinarily block reform, that prevent reform. And they allow governments to make very dramatic, far-reaching reforms that arguably would not be possible in less—at less dire, less extreme moments. So that’s number one.

Number two is what I call in the book the power of promiscuous thinking. And what that really just means is pragmatism. All of the leaders in this book were relentless, almost ruthless pragmatists who never let party or ideology or philosophy stand in the way of their search for answers. These are politicians left, right, and center who, rather than approaching a problem with a particular philosophy in mind, started with the problem, looked at the data, and then looked all across the political spectrum, at home and abroad, to find the best answer, stole it, and then applied it at home and worried about the political ramifications, the party ramifications, et cetera, after the fact.

That proved very effective in all the cases that I looked at, although it means that in many of the cases you had leaders serving their constituents in unconventional ways. So I have a chapter on Brazil’s enormous progress under Lula da Silva, a man who now is under a great cloud, fighting inequality and poverty. And the way Lula did it was with what is basically a classically neoliberal solution, which was to simply give money to the poor, which flew in the face of decades of social science research about how you’re supposed to address poverty.

He applied or he imposed a few conditions on aid recipients, but what that did—and the reason that idea—the idea had been first proposed by—all the way back in the 1960s by Milton Friedman, of all people—is that it turned the poor into market players, because all of a sudden these people had money in their pocket. And as Lula said to me when I interviewed him for the book in 2014, 80 percent of the people who received aid bought a refrigerator, and 79 percent of them bought a dishwasher, and 50 percent of them bought TVs.

And so at a remarkably low cost to the country, because in fact it takes very little money to make a big difference in a poor person’s life, so the average stipends were under a hundred dollars a month, the program had an enormous benefit not just to the poor but to all of Brazil’s economy. It’s estimated that the—it had a magnifier effect of about 1.7 reais. So that meant for every 1 real that the government spent, the economy enjoyed a 1.7 reais benefit.

So pragmatism, crisis, and the third is—well, these leaders were all brave. They all took enormous risks. But they—I’m trying to think of the good third lesson to drop in here. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Is this your—is this your Rick—

TEPPERMAN: Let me stop, because I’ve been going on so long.

HAASS: This is your Rick Perry moment.

TEPPERMAN: Right. (Laughter.)

Oh, Energy, Department of Energy, right? (Laughter.)

HAASS: (Laughs.) Well done. The—

TEPPERMAN: I’m going to flip to the conclusion. (Laughter.)

HAASS: How did you come up with your 10 examples? Did it—did you ask people what’s worked? Did you start with a hypothesis? Did you start with some of your building blocks and think what fit them? Did you take things you noticed?

And one of the examples you use is New York—and Ray Kelly’s here—with what this—what this city has done. It’s actually superior, in many ways, to any federal capacity—


HAASS: —in dealing with intelligence and law enforcement and knitting them all together. Like just say—how did you come up with your list of 10?

TEPPERMAN: I started asking people smarter than myself, people who focus on international affairs, friends of mine in business, academics, what are the big success stories? And I gathered a list.

I had certain problems in mind. There were a few that I was interested—that I ended up not writing about, like climate change, for example, because I felt both that—I worried about my ability to get my arms around it, and I worried about the ability to find a single country that has made enough dramatic progress that it would merit inclusion in the book. Arguably, in retrospect, Costa Rica could have qualified, but I didn’t do it.

I was also looking for several things in these stories that I would ultimately tell. First of all, I wanted there to be a good story. I wanted there to be a surprise. So, for example, I have a chapter on the resource curse, which is how—it’s this phenomenon in development where countries with high levels of natural resources, whether it’s oil or minerals or gold or what have you, tend to function worse, whether it’s on economic development or in politics or have higher levels of conflicts, than countries with no natural resources. They tend to be poorer, believe it or not, than completely resource-poor countries, because great resource wealth pouring into a developed country destroys everything: governance, the economy, what have you.

There are some first-world examples of countries that have managed their resources well. Canada, Norway are the two big examples. Writing about how a Scandinavian country has solved any problem is not particularly interesting, because it’s not going to surprise anybody.

Similarly, when I took on corruption, I wrote about the second least corrupt country in the world, which is Singapore, rather than the first least corrupt country in the world, because that’s Sweden, which gave me that Scandinavian problem again.

So I wanted—I wanted drama and I wanted surprise. I also was looking for countries that started in a—and this is related—in a—in a really bad place, to illustrate the fact that these solutions are possible and not just in countries that happen to or states that happen to be so well-blessed, you know, by fate that other countries that are not so well-endowed couldn’t help to follow their lead, because the idea was that these models should be replicable. And so the circumstances couldn’t be too particular to any one country.

The reason that I chose to include New York was twofold: one, because—so I have two chapters in the book on political gridlock, because I felt like it’s such a big problem, it’s so critical at the moment, and because it’s responsible, in a sense, for so many or contributes to so many of the other problems in the book.

And I found that there were two approaches to gridlock that I wanted to write about. One is what Mexico did in 2012 at the beginning of the administration of the current president, Pena Nieto, which is to break gridlock, to bring the three—country’s three warring political parties together, actually hammer out a deal, and together pass this incredibly far-reaching set of reforms.

So the optimal way of dealing with gridlock is to break it, but that is often not possible. And what I found when I started to think and research New York is that New York came up with its own solution, which was to work around the problem.

And New York City under Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly, in its approach to counterterrorism, was really practicing the art of the workaround. New York decided that it could not rely—and by the way, it’s terrifying to be saying all of this with Ray Kelly in the room. (Laughter.) But I’m going to forge ahead anyways. It—New York City decided it could not rely on the federal government to protect it, to keep it safe. The three-letter agencies, the FBI, the CIA, had let it down. The Bush administration, which had come into office—remember, this was supposed to be the administration of managerial MBA competence—had dropped the ball in part by ignoring the warnings that it was getting from the Clinton administration about the storm moving out of the Middle East, et cetera. And so New York decided it was going to do it itself, it was going to do it on its own dime. And so it proceeded to act like a federal government by taking on all of these roles, which no municipality has ever done before.

HAASS: So given all that, in five weeks—and this is—this will be the most popular thing I say tonight—we actually—the election—the campaign here will be over. (Laughter, applause.) I knew I could get a positive reaction. And so given everything you’ve thought about, what is it you’d recommend that the new president do early on, where you think there’s a potential fix? And what would you tell him to avoid? Given all the stuff that’s out there, given what you’ve said, what would—because you want to start out an administration, if you can, with successes—


HAASS: —want to create a little bit of a momentum, so what would be the one thing you’d say, this looks ripe, to use one of my favorite words, to put your political resources and calories in, and this would probably be a bad idea, even though it’s been talked about a lot? Where—what would you say?

TEPPERMAN: So you know, I want to start by that—answering the question by saying I get asked this question a lot, in a slightly different way, which is, which country in the world do you think is ripe for the next fix or which country is most or best suited or most ripe for the kind of solutions that you describe?

And I often do answer with the United States, for a couple of reasons: one, because of the enormous assets that the country still—and advantages that the country still possesses. You know, things here look terrible today until you look at just about every other country in the world, and then they don’t look so bad. And despite, you know, all of our very real problems, we still have enormous advantages over other countries, when—whether it’s our education system or our high-tech sector, and all on down the line.

I also feel like the problems that we are dealing with here are not—you know, they’re not natural disasters. They are in part due to circumstances outside of our control, but most of them are of our own making. So we’ve created these problems, and we therefore should be able to address them. And if we do, I think the payoff here would be spectacular and potentially greater than anywhere else, because we’re in such a great position to continue to grow our economy, to thrive as a country, if only we can work these things out.

Now to get back to your actual question, which is the hard part, there are several lessons for the next administration, I think. First is a very simple one, and it sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s nonetheless real, and that’s hope. I mean, the one thing that I learned and that I took away from all of these chapters, perhaps more than any, is that solutions to the worst-seeming, the most difficult-seeming, the most intractable-seeming problems are possible in virtually every case.

Not always. There’s no guarantee. But you know, the fact that—if Mexico, a country where the political warfare exceeded, if anything, the animosity between Democrats and Republicans in this country, was able to hammer out a deal and actually see it through suggests that despite the differences in our countries, that might be possible here.

HAASS: Can I—can I then press you? Given what you just said and given where we are in the campaign, would you put—immigration is an issue that I would say does not seem to be poised to be fixed in this country. Or would you disagree?

TEPPERMAN: Right. I do disagree. I mean, I’m not an expert on Congress, but my impression is, from talking to moderate Republicans, that there are a few areas of low-hanging fruit where people are suggesting, on the right as well as on the left, that there are large constituencies looking for a deal. And you know, if the sort of David Brooks thesis about what’s going to happen to the Republican Party after the election is right and there is a realignment or the party simply comes to its senses and moves back to a party that would welcome Richard Haass back into its ranks—(laughter)—then, you know, there is a—there—not—how do I know that there’s a common-sense deal? Because we actually worked out a common-sense deal in the Senate already. And so the—it’s sort of the like the Middle East peace process. There’s already a deal. Everybody knows what it’s going to be. And I think there are a few other areas of low-hanging fruit.

On this note, you know, sequencing is really important. So another thing that I would tell the president is, it’s very important to start with the easy wins first, because that builds momentum and that builds confidence. And that’s one of the things that the Mexicans did with their—well, one of the ways the Mexicans were able to make their deal stick.

And then the third, again, is to be pragmatic, to not worry so much about—now this is difficult to do, and it’s risky, but not worry so much about party doctrine when finding a common-sense solution.

And you know, this comes back to this issue of bravery. All of the leaders that I wrote—write about in the book ended up, well, with a—I guess with a couple of exceptions, like Pena Nieto—many of them thrived as a consequence of their decisions. But not all of them did, and it certainly wasn’t guaranteed.

Structural reforms, especially big, big reforms to a country’s economy or its political system, they’re—not only are they enormously difficult, but they take time to pay off. And that time scale can often exceed the term of an individual politician, which is why so few people—so few politicians have the guts to embrace them in the first place. But they—so you—so you need somebody willing to invest and to take the chance that they may not get the payoff for them in the—in the immediate term.

And then I guess the other thing that I would emphasize is, well—and they’re related—one is, many of the solutions that I write about in the book involve—well, they all involved compromises and messy compromises. Nobody—in the case of Mexico, or in the case of Rwanda, another example I wrote about, nobody was happy, completely happy, with the deals that were struck. The phrase that I use in the book is satisfy or please all of the people some of the time. Don’t please some of the people all the time. Don’t give anybody everything that they wanted. You can think about this as sort of the art of satisficing, which is, you know, in order to make these deals stick, you have to give everybody something and just enough that the deals will work, because if you give one constituency everything, that guarantees that you’re going to have dead-enders who will—who will oppose it.

So I guess that’s the last point. But follow up and then I can—we can come back to that.

HAASS: OK. Two quick follow-ups. Did you consider Obamacare and reject it, or you didn’t consider it as a fix?

TEPPERMAN: Oh, no, I didn’t—I didn’t consider it, because of the problems in the program and because it’s yet a—you know, so much a work in progress.

But actually that reminds me of the other point that I wanted to make, which is this idea of working out messy compromises and deals and bargains that don’t satisfy everyone but nonetheless can accomplish a lot—we have seen some of that in this administration. The Iran deal is arguably a good example of that. The TPP may be another.

What this—where this administration has fallen down and the one point that I would emphasize for the next is, you can’t just do the right policies; you got to do the politics as well. And all of the leaders that I write about were masters of both. They were—they were both extremely adept at finding technocratic fixes, and then they were extremely skillful at manipulating the political process to make sure that those deals stuck.

HAASS: That’s consistent with the point we used to make at the Kennedy School, which was very hard for smart people to understand: that 10 percent of life was the policy design was the answer and 90 percent of life was implementation and the politics.


HAASS: And it was often very tough for smart people to get around that, because they would almost reverse the proportions.

What about infrastructure? Is that something, given the politics, that you would say, if you were advising Mr. Trump or Secretary Clinton, if they were to be elected, that that seems to be poised for a fix?

TEPPERMAN: Yeah, absolutely, because the need is enormous and the constituency asking—looking for investment there is very influential and powerful. And because—I mean, talk about a magnifier effect. The—you have, with infrastructure, both short-term and long-term magnifiers, because you’re immediately putting people to work, and then you start to reap the economic benefits that better roads, ports, airports, et cetera, start to earn you.

HAASS: Let me ask one last question—then we’ll open it up—which is, you’re writing about 10 cases, and if I remember correctly, nine are national and one is local. Is that right?


HAASS: OK. None, though, is purely international.


HAASS: Does the fix apply—here we are at the Council on Foreign Relations. And again, you’re sitting next to Mr. Conventional Wisdom, who’s quite discouraged about the state of the world. Do you think that there are fixes you either can point to or see out there that are low-hanging fruit that haven’t been picked at the international level? Or do you think the dynamics are qualitatively different when you get to the international level than they are at the national or local level?

TEPPERMAN: Fortunately, I know that Mr. Conventional Wisdom has a book coming out on precisely this subject in January.

HAASS: (Laughs.)

TEPPERMAN: So he’s going to provide the real answers, and as I stumble around, it doesn’t matter whether I get to them or not.

HAASS: (Laughs.)

TEPPERMAN: You know, some of the—certainly the principles can work, but you—another of the lessons in the book that just sort of emerges from every page—it’s not one that I highlight per se at the end—is that you need leadership, and you need partners willing to make a deal. And unless that exists on the international—internationally, that’s not going to happen. So you know, when it comes to the United States working with Russia, for example, I’m pretty pessimistic.

The book does, I think—one of the implications is that all the old-fashioned clichés about diplomacy, that you need to find win-win solutions that everybody can benefit, that everybody also has to give up something, that it helps to negotiate these deals in a quiet way before making them public, I mean, all of that was validated by the book. And it works domestically and will work internationally too.

But a lot of the book is really about self-help solutions, about institutional failure and countries figuring out how to make things work despite either the lack of institutions or institutions that aren’t working. And that’s—you know, that’s a problematic idea to apply to the international arena, because if you’re talking about countries doing it individually, then you don’t have cooperation.

What it may be pointing to, however, is the sort of ad hoc cooperation that we’ve been seeing more and more of, so countries not working through formal bodies, like the U.N. or the Doha Round, but negotiating multilateral or plurilateral, I think, is—deals on a—on a case-by-case basis; coalitions of the willing, to borrow a terrible phrase.

HAASS: Since you’re also sitting next to the person who invented that phrase, I don’t think it’s so terrible. (Laughter.)

(Laughs.) Just an aside.

OK, we’re going to open it up, and it’s on the record, just to remind you. I probably should have told you that at the beginning, but any author’s—really wants things to be the record.

TEPPERMAN: Yeah, the book is on the record too, so go here—

HAASS: The book is on that. More important, the book’s for sale outside, but you still have a bit of time before you can leave the room and go stimulate the American market.

So let’s—raise your hands. We’ll get a microphone to you. Just introduce yourself. We’ll start here, in row uno.

Q: Hi. My name’s Laurie Campbell (sp). Is this on?

Is that—do you—do you have to get to a crisis situation before these fixes work?


Q: Or is there something that can be done before you get to that precipice?

TEPPERMAN: Right. So I’ve thought about this question a lot, because as I prescribe models, I certainly don’t want to prescribe crises to countries, because if you wait till that point and your leaders make the wrong choices or you don’t happen to have leaders with the integrity and the political skills in—to get you out of it, then you’re—then you’re screwed.

So crisis can be very effective, but there’s—I mean, so I guess there are two answers. One, there are crises and then there are crises, right? So we’re arguably in a crisis already in the United States today. We’re not where Mexico was in 2012, where it was risking becoming a failed state, but things are plenty bad enough here.

Whether they’re bad enough to play the role that I talked about earlier of sweeping away institutional obstacles and concentrating the minds of politicians, you know, making them realize that they really only have one choice left, and that’s to work together, that’s a different question. A blowout loss for the Republicans in this election could, you know—could make that difference. But no, crises are helpful, but it wouldn’t argue that they’re necessary.

HAASS: Can I just push on that? Because one would have argued in one area of American life that there’s something of a crisis, which is victims of guns. Why isn’t that then—what does your book tell us about why there hasn’t been a fix in that area? What—because I’m curious there, because that—one would have thought that justifies the use of word a “crisis” or something close to it. So what’s it about that that doesn’t lead to a fix?

TEPPERMAN: You know, it’s a really hard question, and it’s one as a—that I, as now an American but who grew up in Canada and am still a dual citizen, think about a lot, because for Canadians and for citizens of every other Western democracy, the situation—the gun crisis here is—and the failure of the country to do anything about it is inexplicable.

Now what I tell Canadians and my British friends and Australians when I try to describe why the problem is so intractable here is that it has to do with not just the technical issues but with these core ideas about American identity, at least among part of the population, that are—that are essential to the way that many Americans think about themselves. And you know, it’s related to this can-do frontier mentality. That has been responsible for many good things.

But the—that’s sort of on the level of culture. More specifically, you know, my sense is that the—that you have—well, everybody knows, I think, the answer that I’m about to give, but that you have enormously powerful interests aligned against reform, and you have too few powerful people care about taking it on and taking the enormous hit that they would, you know, potentially suffer.

That isn’t to—it’s not at all guaranteed that they would fail. There are numerous cases in American history of politicians deciding that an issue is so important that they’re going to try to sell it directly to the American public over the heads of Congress. And that has worked on occasion. But that’s an extremely, extremely risky strategy, and it means also that a politician has to be willing to put that at the top of her agenda and be willing to sacrifice potentially a lot of other priorities.

HAASS: Michael. You have a microphone right there.

Q: Thank you. Michael Oppenheimer, NYU.

Jonathan, just to stay on crisis for a moment, 9/11, a crisis that arguably had what—arguably—certainly was misused, a lot of political capital that was squandered but might not have been squandered, with the right kind of leadership—this also brings to mind FDR, not a big thinker, a pragmatist, a courageous guy operating in a crisis, prepared to experiment, right, with different approaches to getting us out of recession and depression, learned from the experience, compromised as he had to, a superb politician.

Can we learn anything from the Roosevelt experience versus the Bush experience, in terms of—

TEPPERMAN: Sure. I mean, sure we can. I—the first answer is that people matter, and that was something that I thought about again and again while I was writing the book.

And I have to be careful when I talk about that, because I don’t buy the sort of great man theory of history and the idea that we need these almost supernatural world historical figures to save us at key moments. And I take pains to emphasize in the book that while all of the leaders that I write about end up doing remarkable things, they were not all destined or marked for greatness early in their careers. You know, Michael Bloomberg famously got fired from his first job. Lula ran unsuccessfully for president three times before he finally became president. Indonesia’s first democratic leader was so astoundingly uncharismatic that he would occasionally fall asleep in the middle of his own speeches. And yet he was able to set Indonesia on this path of democracy and countering violent extremism that it is still enjoying the benefits of today.

So you don’t have to be superhero, but the choices that you make, the—and the character of the leader in power does make a big difference. And it involves all of the attributes that you just mentioned in describing Roosevelt and that I talked about when I was describing pragmatic, brave leaders. We certainly, you know, didn’t seem to see that kind of open-mindedness in the Bush administration after 9/11, which did precisely the kind of thing that I argue against, which is rather than look at the problem, start with the problem, and look at the data and try and find the best answer, they already had an answer in mind and tried to apply it to the problem, rather than the other way round.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am.

Q: Emma Pohalski (sp).

To what extent do you think that these fixes are actually replicable? If you’re talking about the particularities of a national context, would you—are there any of them that you would recommend as a strategy? For example, New York City working around a national context—


Q: —is this the forward-looking prognosis that you’re seeing?

TEPPERMAN: Sure. So you know, certainly Michael Bloomberg thinks that the Bloomberg model can be replicated elsewhere, which is why he’s created a consulting firm to do just that, to help cities around the world take a page from New York, whether it’s on traffic or antismoking initiatives or the environment.

Now he’s probably not the best authority on whether the Bloomberg model can be replicated in other places, because he has a little bit of skin in the game. But it’s—you know, it’s striking that de Blasio, as different a politician as he is, has himself done some things that are reminiscent of Bloomberg’s approach. For example—and what I mean here specifically is not waiting for federal-state action on, you know, deciding to issue every New York resident an ID card regardless of immigration status, for example, or raising the municipal wage on a—excuse me—raising the minimum wage on a municipal basis, rather than waiting for action from above.

You know, I tried very hard, as I said before, not to find—or to avoid countries that were so idiosyncratic that they—their successes can’t be borrowed from.

So my answer is that yeah, it can work. You have to adapt. Some of the solutions are probably more easily adapted than others. Brazil’s model of fighting poverty and inequality, for example, has already been adapted and implemented by, at last count, something like 40 other countries, including every country in Latin America, and was even tried by the Bloomberg administration briefly, although it’s harder to do in a rich country like the United States than it is in a poor one like Brazil.

Canada’s approach to immigration, I think, is another great example that other states can learn from. What Canada did, in a—very briefly, was two things. Rather than make the core focus of its immigration policy family reunification, which is what we do here in the United States, which has sort of an emotional appeal, but it lets an arbitrary factor, which is whether your relatives had the dumb luck of getting into the country before you did—it makes that arbitrary factor the core determinant and the shaper of our immigration policy.

Canada has a family reunification program also, but its main emphasis is economic. And so what Canada does is, it rates every potential immigrant on a rubric of nine different categories, things like your education, your language skills, whether you speak French or English, your work background, whether you have job skills that are particularly suited to Canada’s needs at the moment. And if you score above a certain number, you get in, and if you don’t, you don’t.

The other thing that Canada did when it implemented that program—and that was at a time in the 1960s when Canada was as white and parochial and racist a country as could be imagined—up until that point Canada had followed an immigration policy known as “White Canada,” and that tell you everything you need to know about it. Northern Europeans were let in all the time. Swarthy Southern European types were let in during manpower crises. And if you came from anywhere else in the world, you were banned.

So when Canada made this change, predictably, it fell—faced enormous pushback from much of the population and from the elite that didn’t want more people and certainly didn’t want more people with pigment in their skin coming into Canada.

So what the government did was simultaneously launch an extremely effective public relations campaign to promote multiculturalism. In 1971 Canada created the world’s first policy of multiculturalism. Now this has become a bad word in many parts of the world, but it’s proved enormously successful in Canada. The country has spent a lot of money promoting this idea that diversity makes the country more Canadian and not less, while also working very hard at and spending a lot of money on integration, which is the mistake that many European countries have made, their—the failure to do just that.

These two policies ended up—multiculturalism and race-blind economic immigration—proved mutually reinforcing, because the economic emphasis on immigration soon started to create an immigrant population that was providing material benefits to the country, visible material benefits to the country. The country had been booming. It risked stalling out. The boom continued.

At the same time, Canadians were hearing this message that pluralism is a good thing, and seeing the material benefits and hearing the—sort of the cultural philosophy, these two dovetailed, and Canadians embraced it, so much so that if—when Canadians were recently polled on what makes them proudest of their country, they ranked multiculturalism second, ahead of hockey, which is just astounding. (Laughter.)

Multiculturalism sells beer in Canada. In 2015 Molson’s main summer ad campaign featured people of different races and colors saying, “I’m Canadian,” in different languages.

Now that’s probably too much on Canada, but my point is, there’s nothing stopping other countries from applying that kind of economic basis in—or applying it to their—adopting it for their immigration policy.

Canada—to get back to your question, Canada does have a few benefits that make things—or a few idiosyncrasies that that make immigration slightly easier there. It’s a vast country, underpopulated. So people don’t rub elbows as much as they do in the United States, although, for all of its size, Canada is not the enormous country that you see in the maps. Canada is actually about a 50-mile-deep ribbon that stretches along the American border. And there’s almost nobody north of there. So population density is actually higher than people think.

Canada’s also separated by the rest of—from the rest of the world by two oceans, the Arctic, and the United States. So it doesn’t have a big problem with illegal immigration. But that doesn’t explain the Canadian exception entirely, because the United Kingdom is also separated by—is surrounded by water and has exactly the same level of illegal immigration as Canada does, and yet immigration is two to three times more unpopular there than it is in Canada.

HAASS: Before we stop, anyone you want to thank? I mean, you got—I want to give you your Emmy moment here. Is there a—any shout-outs?

TEPPERMAN: Well, of course I would like to start with my wife—(laughter)—who’s sitting in the fifth row.

HAASS: Good answer. Good answer.

TEPPERMAN: Thank you.

And then in—

HAASS: That’s the called the fix, right there, yeah. Yeah. (Laughter.)


The—it happens to be the case that the weekend that I signed my contract to write this book is also the weekend that Alexis and I found out that we were pregnant, that she was pregnant.

Q: (Off mic.)

TEPPERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, although I wasn’t the one who did the heavy lifting there, literally.

So it was, in a sense, not—

HAASS: But it took you longer than nine months to do this.

TEPPERMAN: It did. My goal was to write all 10 chapters—eight of the 10 chapters before the baby was born. I got six done and then four afterwards.

HAASS: Not bad.

TEPPERMAN: I need to thank these two gentlemen sitting right here, my agent, Andrew Wylie, and my publisher, Tim Duggan, for having the confidence in me.

I need to thank that guy sitting back there, Gideon Rose, my boss, and this guy sitting right here—I know that you were fishing all along, though; that’s why you asked that question—

HAASS: I was, and I figured you did it—in spite of me, you—

TEPPERMAN: —for giving me the time, which was an enormous luxury. For months, Richard, when, on the rare occasions would—when he would see me in the halls, would say, do you still work here? (Laughter.) I got a lot of time off to write the book, without which it would have been impossible. And I got support and mentorship, intellectual and emotional, as well. So I’m grateful to all of you.

HAASS: So this is a book of 10 highly readable and interesting case studies. It’s a book with some important conclusions. It’s not just me saying that but already the FT, the Financial Times, The New York Times have chimed in, and it’s more important they think that.

One way you can demonstrate your appreciation and positiveness about the book is buying a copy out there. There’s also a reception here, the chance to ask questions to Jonathan that you were too shy to ask in the public setting.

But I just want to congratulate him and, as difficult as it is for me to say, for pointing out something positive. (Laughter.) Amidst this—at times what seems to be something of a sea of negativity, it’s good to see somebody finding positives and making the case that there is possibility out there. So congratulations and good luck with it.

TEPPERMAN: That’s very kind of you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

HAASS: And here is the book.


Top Stories on CFR

Immigration and Migration

Support for immigration in the West must be balanced with concern about governance in African countries. 


Ukraine’s first steps toward eventual EU membership are the start of a long process that has raised the stakes in the country’s war with Russia.

Immigration and Migration