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

Wriston, Walter B.


Lincoln Wouldn't Have Made It


The current President has a very low popularity rating at this time. The last elected President resigned. The one before that was afraid to run for re-election--

Sounds like a great opportunity, doesn't it?

Do you think that the men and women who run our governmental institutions today are capable of providing leadership for this country?

Just looking around this room, it's inconceivable to me, that there isn't a lot of leadership available. There is. There's no question about the skill of Americans and their leadership. To my mind, the real question is: Can leader survive the current media?

I don't say that just to criticize. It's my belief that Abraham Lincoln couldn't be elected today. The reason is very simple. When Ann Rutherford died, he went out in the wilderness, and he was nuttier than a fruitcake for three months. Josh Speed finally went out and got him. If you read Sandburg, it's described there. Well, Lincoln makes Eagleton[1]  look absolutely stable, and yet they knocked off Eagleton just like that because of a very minor thing.

Another example: Lincoln presided at cabinet meetings, so sick that he had to be carried in on his bed. We've gone from that to Lyndon Johnson showing you his scar, and publishing the report of the annual physical of the President. It's totally irrelevant to leadership.

So, I think the broader question is not whether we've got the people--we've got them by the dozens--but whether they will be allowed to exercise that leadership.

I'm a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist because I believe the country will right itself. But today, the amount of nonsense that's written about anybody who's a leader stops people from going into public life.


[1] Senator Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri was pressured to withdraw as vice presidential candidate in 1972, following allegations of mental instability.

  • 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