Being the Elite

Austan Goolsbee meets the World Affairs Council

Words by Shelton Hull


The World Affairs Council’s new season has just begun, and we’re here to give you a quick preview. 


The Council as we know it began in 1995, when it joined the larger network of World Affairs Councils of America, which now include over 90 chapters in 40 states. Its roots, though, go back a decade earlier. The list of speakers they’ve hosted have included world leaders, iconic journalists and pioneering figures in numerous industries and disciplines with an emphasis on media, foreign policy and military affairs.


The season began Sept. 14 with former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, followed by documentarian Lynn Novick on Oct. 25. Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler and Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist speaks Dec. 5.The final two events take place in the new year, starting Feb. 21 with Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of America’s leading foreign policy experts. She’ll be speaking specifically on U.S./Russian relations, a subject that will surely be as relevant four months from now as it’s been for the past 150 years or so. The season concludes on March 21 with an even spicier subject: U.S./Saudi relations, as explained by Graeme Woods, staff writer for “The Atlantic” who also lectures at Yale University. 


The next sessions, which take place on Nov. 29 and 30, feature University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under former President Barack Obama. Goolsbee holds a master’s degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a Fulbright Scholar. He also hosted “History’s Business” on the History Channel and wrote about money and culture (which go hand in hand, of course) for Slate and “The New York Times.” Goolsbee was always seen as a rising star in those circles, one with a unique skill for summarizing and explaining the complex nuances of global finance. Not only that, but he’s able to do it without being a jerk, which is extremely rare. This offers a rare opportunity for local audiences to take a real deep-dive into American economic policy from someone with executive branch experience. 


At least 240 public figures have appeared at World Affairs Council events here since its inception. A partial list includes Madeleine Albright, Anne Applebaum, David Broder, Ken Burns, David Gergen, Richard Haas, Juliette Kayyam, Michio Kaku, Peggy Noonan, Condoleezza Rice, Alice Rivlin, Burt Rutan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Paul Volcker, Lech Walesa, Bob Woodward, Steve Wozniak and Fareed Zakaria, as well as local legends John Delaney, Ed Hall, Megha Parekh and Shad Khan. But in any given session, the talent in the audience is right on par with the featured attraction. The membership overlaps with many other centers of economic and political power in Northeast Florida, so the networking potential is itself a key selling point for attending.


Annual membership ranges from $40 for students and military to $1,700 for the Ambassador’s Circle. Regular memberships are $140 for adults ($225 for couples), with the 21-40 demographic offered a special “Council EDGE” rate of $75 ($100 for couples). It’s a great deal, at any price but especially at that price. Memberships include all kinds of perks, including discounted subscription rates to publications like “Harper’s Magazine,” “The Economist,” “Foreign Affairs Magazine” and “Foreign Service Journal.” Members also get into exclusive sessions and preferred access to a luxury travel agency run by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. 


Sponsors and top-tier members of the World Affairs Council also have access to special events including presentations by Maria Ressa at Epping Forest on Dec. 4 and Graeme Wood at the The River Club on March 20. 


The list of upper-tier members includes many movers and shakers spanning three generations of local history. They also run a variety of educational and mentorship initiatives. But the best part is that events, like Goolsbee’s, are free to the general public thanks to corporate sponsors and membership fees.


For more information on the World Affairs Council and upcoming events, visit




About Shelton Hull

Shelton Hull has been writing for Folio Weekly since 1997, but his resume goes back even further. He has written for almost every newspaper, magazine and zine in Northeast Florida, as well as publications like Orlando Weekly, Narrow GNV, Creative Loafing Tampa, Charleston City Paper, Ink19 and The Atlantic. He currently writes the "Folio Weed" column, which he created in 2018; he remains one of the widest-read and most influential cannabis writers in the world today. He also compiles material for "Weird Wild Stuff" column, and he previously wrote the legendary "Money Jungle" column for Folio Weekly from 1999 to 2009. He is a regular contributor to "First Coast Connect" on WJCT, as well as the Jacksonville Music Experience. He is a co-host of "The Contrast Project" and the "Bold City Civics" podcast. He is also a co-founder of the record label Bold City Music Productions. He can be reached at [email protected]