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

Wriston, Walter B.


New York City Is Alive And Well


Gertrude Stein said about New York City, "the problem when you go there is there's no there there." So what's really there in New York City? Is the crisis over? And would you please reconcile your support and endorsement of free enterprise with your request for federal assistance to New York City and Lockheed Corporation.

You started out this question by quoting Gertrude Stein, which is very impressive. I would like to counter with another Gertrude Stein quote. When she was dying and her companion, Alice B. Toklas, leaned over the bed and said, "What is the answer?" Gertrude Stein looked up at her and said, "What is the question?"

Do you want me to rephrase my question, Walt?

No. I understood it. I'll say two or three things. First, as far as the City of New York is concerned, we got into trouble because our hearts were too big, because we perceived the problems of people who flooded into our city and we were too generous. We believed that the people of the City of New York should have a free education. We've got 240,000 of them in the City College of New York. We believed that you should have housing, and we believed that you should have social programs. We got in trouble for none of the usual reasons that you get into financial trouble. We got into trouble because our hearts were bigger than our pocketbooks. Then the thing came apart, when the 1973-75 recession hit. It was like living at a 30,000-foot altitude--any weakness you've got will let go under that kind of pressure. The result was that we all went to work to try to put it back together again.

It was a horrendous job. When you neglect something for that long, it takes a long, long time to build it back. But I'm optimistic that we're going to solve our problems.

As far as the other question is concerned: (a) I did not testify for aid to Lockheed, and (b) I did not ask for federal aid for the City of New York--in fact, I got a few brickbats through my window from some people who thought I should have.

I'm glad you set the record straight. Let me give you one more Gertrude Stein quote. She said, "Money--

You teach somebody to read, and look what happens.

One more thing about New York, then: Is there any future there?

We have a different mood there now. People are holding their heads up a little bit higher. I think we've turned the corner. New York City was a lot of laughs when I was here a few years ago. I was in Cleveland recently-- they're not laughing as hard.

  • 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