Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Niall Ferguson

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Niall Ferguson

Article excerpt

In 1873, when Jules Verne published hisAround the World in Eighty Days , it seemed worth betting that a circumnavigation of the globe could be achieved in less than three months. Having just completed the feat in roughly three weeks, I feel like a slowcoach. (I gather it can be done on scheduled flights in 32 hours.) First stop was Los Angeles for Mike Milken's annual conference, an extravaganza of West Coast networking and notworking (the two go hand in hand) held in Beverly Hills. One of the year's best one-liners was Jamie Dimon's back in January, when he defined the Davos World Economic Forum as being 'where billionaires tell millionaires what the middle class feels'. By contrast, the Milken conference is where New Yorkers tell Californians what the Chinese feel.

And so to Beijing, where I was lecturing on 'The West and China' to several hundred students at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management. I had not foreseen that my two lectures on the Cold War era would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. I asked a Chinese colleague if I might be treading on thin ice at a time when the regime was reported to be cracking down on heterodoxy at universities. 'No, no -- you must say exactly what you like,' he replied. 'That is what we want.' So I told my class the story of how Stalin played Mao for a fool in 1950, duping him into fighting the Korean war at considerable risk to his fledgling revolutionary regime. I even quoted Mao's frustrated comment when Stalin kept him cooling his heels in a dacha outside Moscow in late 1949. 'I have only three tasks here,' he complained to his security detail. 'The first is to eat, the second is to sleep, the third is to shit!' Not a dicky bird. Moreover, it would be hard to imagine a group of students more different from the little monsters who so cruelly molested and in some cases murdered their professors in the same city in the late 1960s.

From Beijing to Sydney. Democracy in Australia is compulsory: you have to vote. And you have to vote often, as they have general elections every three years and change party leaders between elections just to keep voters on their toes. They've had four prime ministers in the last five years. Most recently the politically incorrect Tony Abbott was dumped by the governing Liberals (in fact conservatives) for the more polished Malcolm Turnbull. …

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