If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times

Wriston, Walter B.


Expect To Get Zapped


Walt, do you see a continued adverse environment for business in the future? How do you respond to the critics of the free enterprise system?

First, you can't defend yourself, if you have a lousy product at a bad price. There is no way the marketplace can sustain that kind of deal. You can do it for a little while, but over time it will catch up with you. Too many of us have delivered a product that wasn't that good at a price that was too high. To change anything, there has to be real substance, not just rhetoric.

The second thing we have to do, once we have a good story to tell, is tell it. It isn't enough just to stand in the line of fire trying to look dignified.

We had a Senator who fired off the word obscene to describe profits. That cut down everybody, and there was no opportunity for equal time. Look at what happened to Bud Warner.[2]  He cut a half-hour television tape for the oil companies, and television showed 30 seconds of him scratching his nose. That was not an effective reply. On the other hand, CBS and NBC and ABC tell me that ten businessmen out of eleven refuse to go on shows like Meet the Press, Issues and Answers, or Face the Nation.

The reason they refuse is that they are afraid they're going to get zapped. The reality is, yes, you're going to get zapped. But you have to go out there and tell your story about the productivity of the American system, about the creation of jobs in this country, because nobody else is going to tell it for you.

So, if you go on television, or you go on the rubber chicken circuit, you're going to get misquoted, and you're going to get in trouble, but at least you have a fighting chance.

George Meany is a friend of mine. I work with him on the Labor Management Committee. Well, he can hold up a can of soup on television and destroy with one line an hour-long reasoned speech about why business's return on net worth is too low. What we need is somebody in the business community who is as good at the one-liners as George Meany is.


[2] Rawleigh Warner, Chairman, Mobil Oil Corporation.

  • The document was created from a compilation of interviews and question and answer segments with Walter B. Wriston which was later compiled into "If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times" in 1980. The original speech is located in MS134.001.034.00018.
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 Title Page
If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
I: Getting Down to Fundamentals
The Big Cop-out
You Can't Go Bail for Everyone
Risk Is What It's All About
II: Some Basic Ills of the Body Politic
Lincoln Wouldn't Have Made It
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
The Pitfalls of Single-issue Politics
Expect To Get Zapped
The Perils of Legal Pollution
The Injustice of Our Tax System
Those Wonderful People Who Bring You Inflation
Stop the Presses
Silly Premises Lead to Nutty Conclusions
Easier Said Than Done
III: New York, New York
New York City Is Alive And Well
The Road Back
IV: Careers
Rx for Happiness
Good Forward Planning
Dull Job?
A Simple Matter of Survival
Making It at Citibank
What Fast Track?
No Hiding Place
V: Once Around the World Quickly
South Africa
China: A Matter of Timing
The Real Significance of Iran
Iran and the Money Markets
Fashions in Country-criticizing
VI: The Global Financial Scene
The Elusive Eurodollar
De Facto Payments Mechanism
Too Big To Move
The Foreign Exchange Game
They Can't Leave the System
Baskets of Money
Swiss Francs
The Value of a Dollar
Not a Loss Since 1897
A Rational View of LDC Loans
Free Trade Benefits Consumers
The Destructive Costs of Regulation
The Big Rip-off
A Real Entitlement
Can Regulations Prevent Bum Loans?
The Insidious Side of Controls
Competition in Regulation
VIII: The Shape of Things To Come
Not As Big As You Think
What Lobby?
Armageddon Is Late, as Usual
Some Simple Facts about Interest Rates
An Expensive Luxury
How Big Is Big?
What We Did Yesterday Won't Work Tomorrow
A Matter of Semantics
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
Privacy: A Serious Problem
The Unseen Revolution
Things Are Going To Be Different
Take the Handcuffs off Everybody
The Gray Areas of Lending
No Mouse under the Rug
Thank God We Don't Have National Banking
Competition Keeps You Awake
Accounting for Loan Losses
Not a Utility
People Like It
Computer Frauds
Some Final Words on Responsibility
About the Author