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

Wriston, Walter B.


You Can't Go Bail for Everyone


When I was in college, if you can stretch your memory back that far, there was one kid in our class who was married, and we were all very excited. Naturally, it was secret or he would have been expelled. Today, I come back to universities and there are coeducational dorms, or even-and-odd floors, or maybe the sexes are separated by a hallway.

That's an enormous change in the value system. I'm not passing judgment as to which system is right. But again and again, I find that the same MBAs and college students who are terribly worried about corporate morality, have just ripped off somebody on an exam, or gotten into the movies through the fire door, or some of those other fun things you do. Now the only way society can operate is for its leadership to set some kind of standard--one that makes it clear that certain conduct is not tolerated.

The problem is that when some individuals refuse to follow that standard, the corporation is blamed. I don't know how it is in California, but I drive on the Interstate around New York a lot. If you drive at 55 miles an hour, they go by you like you're tied to a tree. Can you really say that's the failure of the President to manage? Well, that's basically what's being said in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If some clerk in Abu Dhabi, operating on his own value system, does something, we have a U.S. senator accusing us of reckless failure to manage.

Well, there isn't any way that an organization--ours isn't all that large, about fifty thousand people--can go bail for what every individual does. All you can do is set up systems, communicate clearly, and take actions that make people understand what's expected of them.

There is, for example, a law in this country against murder. There's a law against almost everything. Nevertheless, murders are committed. You don't condemn lawmakers because their laws are broken. One thing that the business community has not done is to articulate that fact.

  • 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