Former NYC mayor delves into innovation, government, and legalized marijuana
A former Democrat, Republican and now perhaps the world’s wealthiest person with independent political leanings, Michael Bloomberg brought his iconoclastic outlook to The Aspen Institute on Friday evening.
The billionaire and former three-term mayor of New York City spoke on a wide range of topics, most of which had to do with an America he said is “going downhill at an enormous pace.”
Among the points of discussion were the intersection of government, business and philanthropy; “crazies on both sides of the aisle”; climate change; education; and Colorado’s ongoing experiment with legalized cannabis.
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron was among the nearly 400 people at the sold-out, $20-a-ticket event, which was moderated by Jennifer Bradley, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at The Aspen Institute.
Bloomberg said that even though many in the federal government don’t even recognize that climate change is happening, the United States has still reduced the output of greenhouse gases by 5 to 7 percent in recent years. This was done by the private sector and cities, which forced coal-fired power plants to either switch to natural gas or shut down, he said.
When he teamed with former vice president Al Gore to paint a five-story building white, which he said reduces the structure’s energy bill by 25 percent overnight, Bloomberg said he was mocked. Now, when a person flies over New York City, they will see that 95 percent of roofs are painted white, he said.
Such innovation “takes place with mayors and when you have a strong mayoral form of government,” Bloomberg said.
That the nation has a lot of “good, strong, young mayors” makes him optimistic. He said, however, that something holds true regardless of how large a city is: “People want things, and they don’t want to pay for it.”
On the international stage, he said American politicians should avoid absolutist positions, bringing up Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. While the conflict has met with condemnation, the United States did essentially the same thing when it annexed Texas and California, and “when we stopped Russia from putting missiles in Cuba,” Bloomberg said. “It’s not so simple.”
Bradley noted that while philanthropy, government and business can team to make major change in U.S. cities, there are difficult questions about democratic accountability.
But Bloomberg said the nation doesn’t lose “democracy just because someone is willing to give money.
“Taxpayers don’t have the money to do some of these things,” he said.
As an example he brought up David and Charles Koch, billionaires who spend lavishly on conservative causes. He said he supports their right to spend their money as they want, and that while he doesn’t agree with any of their positions, one would be hard-pressed to find a hospital in a major city that doesn’t have a building named after them.
“Think of the lives those facilities and research have saved,” Bloomberg said. “We all benefit from that.”
As for legalized marijuana and its use in general, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws once ran an ad campaign using Bloomberg’s own words on the subject when he was a mayoral candidate in 2001: “You bet I did. And I enjoyed it.” Given that, his statements Friday would harsh anyone’s buzz.
Of Colorado’s legalization of cannabis: “I couldn’t feel more sorry that it happened.
“What are we going to do when kids today have IQs that are" lower?Bloomberg said. “It’s one of the stupider things that’s happening in the country. I’m about to be 73, and of course you smoked a joint in the ’60s. But it was very different, and it doesn’t make it right.
“Today, it’s much stronger and potentially much more damaging.”
Toward the end of the evening, an audience member asked him about the high price of college tuition. Bloomberg said that when he was president of the board at John Hopkins University, he advocated for raising tuition to as high as possible.
That was the best way to take as much money as possible from wealthy families to fund opportunities for students from lower- and middle-class families.
The greatest transfer of wealth in the country is that between rich families sending their kids to college and less-wealthy families who can obtain scholarships and other types of aid, Bloomberg said.