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

Wriston, Walter B.


The Pitfalls of Single-issue Politics


What kind of legislation would you like to see?

I'd like to see a lot of sunset laws. Everybody in America is currently in violation of a federal law, including you and me. But I haven't got enough money to find out which one I'm violating. Anybody can make that accusation, and it's probably going to be true. That goes from the President of the United States to the waitress here at the Cornell Cafeteria who forgot to report her tips. Society is eroding because we have too many laws and regulations, which can only be selectively enforced.

Do you see that actually happening?

Every day.

Do you see any realistic chance for sunset legislation?

Yes. I think there's a fundamental change of attitude in America. People are getting a little tired of the situation.

So the Proposition 13 sort of thing might spill over?

David Browder had a brilliant article in the recently on so-called single-interest groups. The politicians have learned that a single-interest group, on say abortion, can knock off the re-election of a distinguished senator, by generating 15,000 letters from Catholics in his district. Browder says that these politicians have nothing to cry about, because they are single-interest politicians who bypassed the party to get elected in the first place. In the old days, the party protected the politician. When Tip O'Neill said, "All Democrats will vote for this," you voted for it. When you went home and your constituents asked, "Why did you do that?" you said, "Listen, I'm a loyal Democrat. I've been protected by the party. I had to go along." Today's politicians have no such protection. Browder predicts a renaissance of the political party, because single-interest politicians--even Presidents--who challenge incumbents, without going through the party structure, are soon bereft. The only defense they're going to get is to join a party.

If they did that, we wouldn't have as much nutty legislation by single-interest groups for single-interest candidates. So I see a switch coming back toward party discipline.

I assume, though, there would be "clubhouse" politicians--precinct-level politics.

Sure, and it didn't work too badly.

Except that the liberals have been destroying it, something I don't think they wanted to do.

That's exactly right. So now we have single-interest groups on clean air, abortion, AFL-CIO, The Business Roundtable, what have you. Each has the capacity to defeat a candidate on a single issue. The light really went on for liberals when the Democrats lost Minnesota.

  • 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