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De Rothschild proclaims newspaper business dead

Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, 47, has given a rare interview to the one decent Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, in which he is quizzed on a variety of themes, ranging from the banking crisis to FaceBook.

The Baron, who presides over a four-billion-euro family empire, or would if he hadn't put his wife in charge, is quite clear over what brought the global economy to its knees: "Greed!" he says, "Pure and simple. And it is going to happen again."

He says this time it will happen in life insurance surety bonds. "Wall Street is now making the same mistakes with insurance that it did with mortgages. They will never learn. When you see the amounts that are being paid now to securities traders in insurance bonds, you see pure madness."

It's tough talking from a guy with a rather impressive pedigree. But rather than appear cossetted in luxurious bubble, the Baron actually makes a fair bit of sense.

"The American capitalist model has failed," he says. "Look at what they did in Lehman Brothers: A few days before the crash they paid themselves bonuses and salaries of tens of millions of dollars. I'm sorry, but in my opinion that is a crime and they should have gone to jail."

Surprisingly, the Baron says he has "the privilege" of existing without a cellular phone. "I don't have a BlackBerry or an iPhone. I have never had a mobile phone. The only time I use that kind of phone is when I am skiing with my daughters and we have to coordinate the time for lunch."

He confesses, however to a love affair with computers. "I love computers and use them a lot in my work, of course. But no more than that. I don't read newspapers on the Internet, because I find it uncomfortable to read on the screen."

However, he says: "I think people will read fewer and fewer newspapers and that the Internet will become the main source of information. I'm sorry, but I think the newspaper business is dead. I am not saying it will happen within five years, but people are reading less and less."

On the subject of FaceBook, he says he started up a page because "someone opened a fake page in my name and I checked it out and then created a real page." But he hasn't looked at it in two years. "I think that Facebook and similar networks are open to investigations by the police and secret services, and I do not like to be under surveillance."

The full interview is here.