The American Academy welcomed its thirty-third class of fellows at the Hans Arnhold Center on September 18, 2014. The evening began with introductions by Academy Chairman A. Michael Hoffman and Executive Director Gary Smith. Hoffman welcomed not only the fellows but also Academy’s new Dean of Fellows, Wolf Schäfer, who was himself a new fellow just a year ago, in fall 2013. Each year, a prominent figure in Berlin’s cultural, academic, or political life welcomes the fellows to the city. The tradition was continued this semester, as Donald Runnicles, general music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, joined the Academy staff and guests and welcoming the fellows to Berlin. “Having studied tonight’s incredible list of new fellows at this storied institution,” Runnicles said, “I am humbled, genuinely honored, and very thrilled to welcome you to Berlin…. I’ve had the privilege of working in all the major cities of the world and I can say that this is perhaps the most remarkable city in the world.” Following Runnicles’s words of welcome, the fall class of fellows introduced themselves with short descriptions of their projects.
In his new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society (Campus, 2014), social theorist Jeremy Rifkin argues that capitalism is becoming a victim of its own success: machines powered by alternative energies are undermining our sense of private property, taking away jobs, and turning consumers into free agents in a global “sharing economy.” While intense economic competition is forcing the introduction of ever newer technologies, productivity is reaching a point where the marginal cost of making additional units is so low they are essentially free. Rifkin describes how the emerging “Internet of things” will accelerate the beginning of an era of free goods and services, precipitating the rise of a global collaborative commons and the shutdown of capitalism: profits dry up, property ownership becomes meaningless, and an economy based on scarcity gives way to an economy of abundance, changing the very nature of society itself. In the wake of these developments, Rifkin envisions a new and more fulfilling form of communitarianism that spreads across the globe. This talk, at the Allianz Forum, was moderated by Reinhard Karger, Company Spokesman, German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence; and President, German Society for Information and Knowledge.
With the Eurozone crisis in its fifth year, many continue to see the issue of Germany’s role and the future of the Euro as a prevalent one. In contrast to those who rally against the common European currency, C. Fred Bergsten continues to argue that Germany has an overwhelming number of reasons to make sure the euro succeeds, and that the Eurozone holds together through the crisis. While Germany has so far demonstrated the willingness to pay whatever price is necessary to preserve the Eurozone, Bergsten asks if it should indefinitely rely on financing its partners, or if it could rebalance its own economy in ways that would help adjust their imbalances. Are there feasible policy options, consistent with Germany’s affinity for stability, and abhorrence of fine-tuning, that could achieve such outcomes? Bergsten hopes such strategies might help overcome the “high-level stagnation” that is the legacy of the Euro crisis and could otherwise remain so for some time.
In this presentation of her memoir at the American Academy as a Lloyd Cutler Distinguished Visitor, the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor talked about her journey from social housing in the Bronx to the bench of the United States Supreme Court. My Beloved World, Sotomayor's just-released biography, recounts how the US Supreme Court judge, faced with with an exceedingly precarious childhood, determined early on that she only had herself to depend upon—and then imagined a path to a different life. She pursued a dream that would sustain and elevate her from valedictorian of her high school class to an appointment on a federal district court before the age of forty. Her moving biography and talk not only details her struggle and determination—it also expands the spectrum of America’s infinite possibilities.
New Yorker staff writer and spring 2014 fellow George Packer reads from his National Book Award-winning account of American change over the last fifty years, The Unwinding. The book deftly interweaves the stories of everyday, working Americans, social history, economic statistics, and biographical sketches of some of today's leading public figures, including Newt Gingrich, Oprah Winfrey, and Jay-Z, in order to paint -- as this lecture outlines -- a troubling picture of an America that has become increasingly emptied of its middle class and ever more obsessed with an unobtainable celebrity lifestyle.