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Berkman Community Newcomers: John Stubbs

Berkman Community Newcomers: John Stubbs

This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.

Interested in joining the Berkman Center community? We're accepting fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year through December 12, 2014. Read more on our fellowships page.


Q&A with John Stubbs

Berkman fellow, consultant, and former staffer with the Officeo f the United States Trade Representative
interviewed in Summer 2014 by Berktern Danielle Ridout

What will you be working on at the Berkman Center?

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is now writing the rules that govern American engagement with international trade, foreign direct investment, cross-border e-commerce, telecommunications and intellectual property rights – rules that can limit or enable freedom of expression and free flow of information.  In some cases these rules directly affect how media is exchanged, where servers are located, and how code is written.  Simultaneously, cyberspace opens new possibilities for global negotiation through greater access to information and citizen participation.  

At the Berkman Center, I would like to explore current international negotiations affecting cyberspace and whether more input from broader networks would improve or hinder negotiations, both for germane topics such as e-commerce, data protection and intellectual property rights, and for negotiations in general.

You have stated that you are interested in looking at the intersection between transparency and international trade—what kind of transparency would you like to see?

Many people believe the current system is transparent, but others do not.  Each camp is usually defining transparency differently.  Part of what is required for this to become more than a fact-free debate is to define the various types and levels of transparency.  We can collect data on negotiations and compare levels of transparency with outcomes.  Then we should be able to have a more informed discussion on the utility of greater information sharing and public participation, know at what point in the negotiations such sharing should take place and whether information sharing can occur asymmetrically, and identify benefits and risks of different approaches.

What do you think the benefits and barriers are to achieving transparency in trade?

I have a few ideas, but I’ll endeavor to enter this project with an open mind.  More transparency relative to the status quo might be better or worse.  Change in either direction will encounter the gravity of inertia and the general circus of policymaking today in Washington. 

Why do you think Berkman is the ideal place to study transparency and international trade?

Berkman has in its orbit people who are relevant for this discussion.  The question of secrecy in trade negotiations is largely a subset of a larger debate about the utility of information on the Internet.  Take, for example, criticisms of Internet-enabled media from Yochai Benkler’s 2006 book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.  Benkler notes the Tower of Babel problem (all speak, few heard), the qualification/accreditation of information problem and the problem related to the gravitational pull of the familiar.  Defenders of classified negotiations deploy similar arguments against greater transparency.  Mark Wu was an intellectual property negotiator at USTR, so he’s as familiar as anyone with the substantive issues that affect cyberspace.  Urs Gasser’s work on cloud computing, interoperability and international trade is instructive as policymakers consider applying rules bound by geography to unbound technologies.  There are many others as well.

The interdisciplinary nature of Berkman is also appealing.  Harvard’s Program on Negotiation may have insights.  The challenges to examining optimal frameworks for negotiations will likely draw upon work in law, economics, psychology, communications and engineering.  Berkman’s diversity provides access to people in all of those fields.

At Romulus Global Issues Management, you’ve acted as a global management consultant—can you describe a “day in the life” as a consultant? Why would someone want to go into consulting?

There is no true day in the life and that’s probably the top reason to be a consultant.  I focus primarily on helping clients navigate cross-border issues related to technology transfer, adoption and uptake in emerging markets.  But within that focus my value as a consultant is to think and engage laterally across different industries to identify risks and opportunities for clients.  That said, to be successful you have to understand your client’s business intimately.  I didn’t go to business school but I assume the best part of that experience for many people would be diving deep into case studies, learning about business challenges and then problem solving.  That’s what I get to do everyday.

And finally, I have to ask—your LinkedIn profile says that you were a wine taster for a couple of years—how does one get that job? What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted?

A friend of mine started a wine import company, needed help, and could compensate me with tastes from interesting wines.  That seemed like a fair deal to me, and I learned a fair amount about wine and enough about the industry to be thankful I’m not in that industry. 

As for the best wine I’ve ever tasted, I don’t have a single favorite and I don’t think I could separate a single taste from the atmospherics.  For his wedding reception a wine collector friend of mine raided his cellar and put a different large format bottle on each table.  My table, which was also his table, had an Imperial (6 liters) of 1990 Cos d’Estourmel.  After dinner he served up a comically large Primat of champagne – that’s equivalent to 27 liters.  It was so heavy we were afraid to pour it.  Instead we used a gentle pump, transferred the wine to beer pitchers and passed them around.  Somehow that made it taste better.

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