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This Billionaire Likes to Tinker With Government

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Nicolas Berggruen, a billionaire who has apparently become fascinated with political gridlock and enamored with the smoke-filled room. What makes Berggruen interesting is his ability to summon personalities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joseph Stiglitz, Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice.

The billionaire social engineer has set his sights on California and Europe, so far.

As the Journal describes it, Berggruen puts bigwigs in a room, thinks through some problems and funds their best ideas, including two initiatives he got passed in California.

Sounds great — until you think of it as further proof that when it comes to our politics, money talks. — PZS

The Wall Street Journal:

A year ago, Berggruen convened a conclave of some of the biggest names in his rolodex, including former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, former governor Gray Davis and the man who ousted him in a recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger. “You had the recaller and the recalled next to each other and singing the same song,” Berggruen says.

The group recommended creating a “Rainy Day Fund” requiring the state to set up reserves when tax revenues are running high. Another suggestion: Allow California’s gridlocked assembly to approve the state’s budget with a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority. With some arm-twisting from Berggruen’s group, the assembly passed both initiatives into law. Tax hikes and budget cuts passed under the simple majority rule have so far helped California to cut its deficit by nearly two-thirds.

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