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

Wriston, Walter B.


Not a Loss Since 1897


How will the governments of the less developed countries be able to work out their heavy external debts? In other words, how will private banks such as yours, with lots of loans out to Peru, to Korea, fare, if they have to be renegotiated?

LDC lending is the current worry of people who haven't thought too much about the problem. It follows closely on tanker loans and New York City bonds--other items for popular worrying. We've been lending money overseas since 1897. We've never lost a dollar on any loan guaranteed by any central bank in any country in the world. That's not a bad record. We have a lot of countries today with balance of payments problems. We have Zaire, for example. We have Argentia, and we had some problems in Korea and some other places.

But the point is that it's within the control of human beings. Countries don't get balance of payments deficits unless they print too much money and it bleeds out through the borders. The International Monetary Fund is a skillful organization with which the private sector works closely. In Zaire, for example, we've been working with the IMF for a year. The IMF is in there, and they now have approved a settlement. If Zaire follows the IMF's package, I don't have any question in my mind that they will come back.

Tomorrow, there will be some new country in trouble. We've lent money over the years to France, Britain, Italy, about every country in Latin America. At the time each one borrowed it, of course, its balance of payments was in bad shape. Once again, I expect that with two or three minor exceptions, these loans will come right. There won't be any losses of any magnitude to the developing countries.

  • 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