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Q&A: Steve Forbes '70, chairman of Forbes Media

After an alumni panel on Saturday discussing whether dysfunction in the federal government is endemic, The Daily Princetonian spoke with panelist Steve Forbes ’70, current chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.

The Daily Princetonian: You founded a highly successful student magazine while at Princeton. What inspired Business Today?

Steve Forbes: It came about from a feeling that students didn’t understand free markets, didn’t understand business, and so we thought it would be good to give perspective, so we started the magazine and have held many Business Today conferences.

DP: It’s often difficult to start publications at Princeton. Why do you think your magazine was successful?

SF: Just because we didn’t know what we were getting into. One of the things you learn very quickly is how difficult it is to get anything done when massive detail goes into making one simple product. We had financial problems, we learned about cash flow. We had enough ads to stay one step ahead of the sheriff. Doing the conferences successfully provided a firm financial foundation, so the magazine provided the basis for those conferences which brought students from all over the country. So thankfully each class is propagated through successful managers.

DP: Were you able to find a balance between your academic work and the magazine?

SF: No, I spent more time on that than on academics!

DP: Are you still involved in it?

SF: I occasionally go to the conferences and speak but it’s mostly about the undergraduates.

DP: You’ve been involved in politics, specifically with the Republican party. Do you have any plans to continue involvement in the future, and if so, in what capacity?

SF: I’ll be involved as an agitator. I’ve launched an organization, Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity, to promote the flat tax, stable dollar and patient control of healthcare. We’ll be working with candidates. We’ve also been working with another group that is promoting the flat tax with candidates. We’ve had dinners with them. Right now on the Republican side, out of the announced and the unannounced likely candidates, at least six are in favor of the flat tax, so we’re making progress.

DP: Do you plan to endorse anyone?

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SF: Eventually, but for now…I’m in the education business.

DP: Peter Singer is still a professor here. Do you continue to hold the belief that he is not in the best interest of the University, and to withhold donations for this reason?

SF: I thought he went over the line, especially when he came out eventually for having sex with animals. People didn’t think that was serious stuff, but Princeton can do better than that. I’m still very supportive of Princeton, however, because Princeton, unlike some other places, does do things for intellectual diversity, like the Madison project and Robbie George, so intellectual diversity, I’m all for it.

DP: As a history major, what was your thesis?

SF: It was on the 1892 presidential election. It was the only time a president had two terms but non-consecutive terms. He won in 1884, lost in 1888 and was elected again in 1892 — the one time that happened. Also, it was a very turbulent period: huge distress in agriculture, huge questions about America’s role in the world, and some of those issues were bubbling in the 1880s.

DP: What has been your favorite memory of Princeton?

SF: Aside from getting through? I think one of them was handing in my thesis on time. And, a lot of good memories on Business Today.

DP: Do you have any advice for the current students at this school?

SF: This is the time to, even if it may affect your average, go out of the comfort zone from time to time, and get your mind to see a lot of separate areas. There’s a fellow who died several years ago named Norman Borlaug. He won the Nobel Prize for the work he did in what we call the Green Revolution, and saved India and China from massive famines. He always told people not to specialize too early, because you never know what life is going to throw your way. He said he made these breakthroughs in economics, politics, so you never know when you may need something. Get exposure to it when you’re young, because you may want to pull it out.