In a city of powerful think tanks, C. Fred Bergsten is known for building the incomparable shop on the global economy, the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Its high-quality data and analyses drive policy debates on monetary and trade matters.
Bergsten, who was an international economics specialist for Henry Kissinger at Richard Nixon’s National Security Council and assistant treasury secretary in the Carter administration, has been called the “model of a Washington policy entrepreneur.”
Bergsten sat down with The Washington Post to reflect on his career and current economic issues.
How did the son of a Methodist minister and graduate of a small college in rural Missouri become an eminence grise of the global economy?
A turning point was in 1960 aboard the Dutch tramp steamer Groote Beer (Great Bear) that was taking college graduates to Europe. A fellow named Seth Tillman, chief of staff to Sen. J. William Fulbright, was leading a daily on-deck seminar on international affairs. I sort of sidled into that, got to know Tillman, who recognized my interest and said he could get me into the Fletcher School at Tufts University. After completing a master’s and doctorate, I came to Washington as a young Foreign Service officer. Later, George Ball called his friend, the dean at Tufts, and that led to my eventually getting the job as Henry Kissinger’s economics deputy at the National Security Council.
Read the full interview