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American University conversation between Wolfensohn and Fischer

by Anonymous Thursday, Jul. 20, 2000 at 4:00 AM

An overheard conversation between the heads of the World Bank and the IMF during a luncheon in D.C.

Please forward as you see fit:


On April 13, 2000, just before the April 16th/17th

demonstrations in Washington D.C. a day-long

conference was held at American University (in D.C.)

on the various subjects surrounding the general

'globalization' debates. Activist scholars like Dr.

Walden Bello and officials from the World Bank and IMF

were among the many different speakers that presented

and took questions from the audience (comprised of

it's own array of activists, scholars, officials, and

other interested persons.)

During the break for lunch a select mix of NGO

members, professors, and others (including business

leaders?), were transported to a luncheon at a nearby

hotel to hear James Wolfensohn (president of the World

Bank) and Stanley Fischer (acting managing director of

the International Monetary Fund) speak about the

issues and field questions from the audience. The two

were unaware that the microphones on their table were

activated during their lunch. As is frequently done,

the live feed from these mics was provided to all the

media covering the event (this allows the operators of

recording equipment to test their connections, set

levels, etc.) The following is a transcript of the

casual conversation that they had, believing (we can

only assume) that it was private. Included in their

conversation is Ben Ladner, president of American

University, who hosted the event.

Some points need to be made.

It should not be assumed that anything said in the

transcript represents a casual conversation that the

three might have had in true privacy. Also, one can

only speculate as to how any of the three might have

acted or spoken differently in the presence of any of

the others. That is, they could be altering their

words, opinions, and so on, for various political,

social, or other reasons.

The decision to make this material public took into

account their right to privacy. It was decided that

the general urgency of the subject matter (i.e.

'globalization'), given their positions, outweighs the

ethical transgression.

President Ladner's introduction for the speakers is

also included.

In the transcript, the following abbreviations and

symbols are used.

F: Stanley Fischer

W: James Wolfensohn

AU: Ben Ladner (president of American University)

Words enclosed in /forward slashes/ were not totally

clear; the best guess is given.

/?/ means that the word or words were unintelligible

(typically because the signal was too weak.) A /?/ is

never more than a small phrase. Thus, a sentence like

I feel lucky to be here /?/

means that "I feel lucky to be here" was clearly

stated and was followed by an unintelligible phrase.

It does not mean that the printed words themselves

were in question.

I feel lucky to be /here/ /?/

means that "I feel lucky to be" was clear, "here" is a

reasonable guess for the next word, and an

unintelligible phrase follows.

Other combinations should be clear by context.

Fischer's speech (with some editing and without

questions from the floor) is at:


Wolfensohn's speech may be available somewhere.

The transcript:


F: Oh nice to meet you, how are you? Excuse me. ...

Yeah, well he is. ... Ah Europe then; it's the same

the other way. Nice to see you. [pause, to Wolfensohn]

What's his, ah, field?

W: I think he's a lawyer but I'm not 100% sure.

F: So have you been going to the conference?

AU: Pardon me?

F: Have you been at this morning's conference?

AU: Ah, I was there just for a little while, ah, and

you know the problem with being a university president

-- [sarcastic] we have other crises, like hiring a new

basketball coach. I mean this is a big deal... so --

ha ha! -- we have alumni writing in, emailing and,

expressing opinions and ... so I'm managing that in

the press and so on and; you'd think there's nothing

else in the world going on.

W: Is that a big factor in fundraising?

AU: It is, well, it is a factor... I wouldn't say...

were not a huge athletic school like some... [F:

Right, I didn't think you were a sports...] Yeah, so,

it doesn't, ah, and I try to keep putting that in to

perspective with some of our real enthusiastic

supporters. Ah, there're some people who'll walk in

and say, you know, 'Here's 0,000; let's be sure we

win next year. This is what I want done...' You know,

and so, [Wolfensohn laughing] but not so many, ah, you

know, not like Wisconsin, you know, or something,

where they kind of run the place or [trails off]

F: How's it going so far Jim?

W: I think it's OK. I think the press conference

yesterday went quite well.

F: I saw you on the evening news.

W: Was that all right?

F: Yeah. You conveyed exactly the sense that... that I

think our people have as well.

W: Which is?

F: You know, that it's difficult being accused of all

these things.

W: Yeah, I said that.

F: Yeah, no, I... that's what I /saw there on the

program/. I am trying still to figure out how to deal

with the Ann Pettifors of the world that come in and

give you a long lecture which is 'You guys are

arrogant, you're unfeeling, you're unlistening' and

then 'we care about the poor.' And it's a

psychological device, and there must be some way of

switching the debate and I was trying to figure out

afterwards; I thought one way next time is to say

'let's just agree: you're morally superior to us,

[Someone: Hmm.] and now let's get on with the


W: I never could... I would...

AU: [joking] Let's talk strategy, huh?

W: I would not concede that.

F: You wouldn't?

AU: Ha ha, you wouldn't, ha ha ha!

W: I always fight /them there/.

F: I, uh, no no, I mean by saying it...

W: I know, I know you're trying to rubbish it, but I


F: You wouldn't even say that.

W: 'Course they'll take it and quote you, they'll

quote you, /Stan/.

Someone: Ha ha.

F: But there's got to be something to knock them off

their perch, because she wasn't that...

W: It's just the assumption...

F: This is the leader of Jubilee 2000. The other thing

which is very interesting is she attacked me for stuff

I said in Russia and it was based on a lot of research

I did...

W: [to server] thanks very much.

F: ...eh, had done. And by the end of it, after I

explained to her, she said 'Oh, well I see you know

more about that than I do' so...

W: She moved /ahead, huh./ She moved away from it.

F: She moved on to the next topic. I guess...

AU: Ha ha ha...

W: Well you're dealing with these people much more

than we are, that's for sure.

F: We have 70 people in the field now, who do nothing

but deal with NGOs.

AU: Really?

F: 70 people... When I came there were 2.

AU: Do you actually try to leave in place a kind of

dialogue setting where people can talk to each other


F: Oh, absolutely. Now we have these 70 people; most

of them are ex-NGO people.

AU: Oh, I see, yeah.

F: And they come to us and they become like,

converted, religious...

AU: Is that right, ha ha ha...

F: Yeah, they do.

AU: Well this is a huge issue of, ah, you know, once

you get beyond trade and /socialism and so on/; the

knowledge issue and the exchange of knowledge; once

that breaks down, there's a huge huge problem, and

it's not just technical skills it's around values,

it's around, you know, if you don't have a way in

which people can confront each other in a civil

context, you've got huge problems.

Someone: Yeah.

F: It's actually interesting. What is... /in that/

implicitly a lot of people in the press conferences

are asking 'why now?' I don't have a good answer, do


W: I think it's post-Seattle. I think this a clear

follow-on to the Seattle victory.

AU: Well why did Seattle bubble up so quickly and


W: I think that is a fear of globalization, it's a

fear of the unknown. There was a lot of... that did

get some labor people as well, [AU: Right] there was a

mixture there of trade issues...

AU: Right, right.

W: And other issues [garbled, interruption]

W: What is that, chicken?

Server: Yes sir. This is Creole /?/ chicken.

W: Creole breast of chicken, /fabulous/.

Server: And that's also some vegetable. /You all/

enjoy it.

Various: Thank you.

F: Yeah, but it's interesting that it should happen

now at a time of real prosperity, and uh...

AU: At a time in which your institutions are doing

more than ever before to be responsive to some of

their concerns.

W: Right.

AU: That's what so odd.

[pause, eating]

W: Did you hear that they're claiming that four of the

Jews pleaded guilty in Iran? [pause] I'm trying to get

some pressure now from shareholders to try and, um,

delay our /loan/...

F: Yeah, I'm sure you can get that pressure.

W: Hmm? You're not sure?

F: No, I'm sure you can. Well...

W: I'm not...

F: ...I'm not sure on the Europeans /'yet' or 'yeah'/.

W: That's the problem. I've, I've, well, the only

country at the moment who's prepared to do it is the

United States.

F: You could get Canada.

W: Yeah, I might get Canada. But I /'need' or 'mean'/

Germany and France /?/

F: Well it's a nice lunch you've put on.

W: Delicious.

F: Thank you.

AU: /'No' or 'None'/. You gotta do it somewhere, you

know. Every day you gotta eat lunch. You might as well

do it here.

F: How large is your student body?

AU: We have about 11,500...

Someone: Mm hmm...

AU: ...but the significant fact is we've got 165

countries in our student body, so... it really is one

of the great diverse universities, I /think/, in the

world. And we're known for, uh, taking on the tough

issues, socially. Our law school was, of course, one

in the country to be founded by women, to bring women

to the law. And we regularly are out front on issues

like Burma; We, we gave an honorary degree to Aung

Song [sic] Suu Kyi and...

W: /You were/ just in Israel because they've trained

practically the whole of the human rights bar in

Israel. Is that right, Ben?

AU: That's right, we have about 60 lawyers who have

graduated from our law school and have gone there and

who work steadily to introduce human... in fact I even

think some of the effects of the recent announcements

that have been coming out, the judgments about

releasing some of the Lebanese and /so on/,

W: Are these both Palestinians and Israelis?

AU: Some of them are Israeli Arabs but [W: Yeah] we

don't have any from the Palestinian sector, no. But

that... what I was talking to you about is exactly

what we need to do is bridge that... we were saying

that, ah, they had proposed that American University

be a kind of neutral site as a university and get out

of the political arena and begin to do some peace

building not just peace making [Someone: Mm hmm.] on

the assumption that whether it's this year or five

years from now peace has got to happen somehow, and

can we put in place the economic structure to be able

to build a society of cooperation between, you know,

the Palestinians, the Syrians, and so on. [Someone:

Yeah.] It's a very exciting idea, and I think there's

a lot of support in Israel for, for pushing ahead,


W: Have you got any Syrian students?

AU: Oh yeah, yeah sure.

W: ...who will go back to Syria?

AU: Yeah, that's the interesting thing; Ah, so many of

our students actually come from the upper tier of the

social and political corporate class, so in many

countries; for example in Bahrein we have about

20-something members of the royal family, including

the crown-prince and /'many' or 'there are'/ others

who just started coming to A.U...

W: Do you really?

AU: ...and they keep sending their kids and cousins

and, you know...

W: Is that right?

AU: Yeah. And, ah, King Hussein, before he died, ah,

his daughter was here, and he was here 2 or 3 times,

visiting, and... It's amazing, if you go around the

world, Latin America and so on, ruling families, top

families, somehow see A.U. as a, as a home, that, you

know, so diverse, that they know that their kids are

going to feel, feel good when they're in their, /in

their/ /?/. So it's an interesting dynamic.


W: Have you got a paid /staff/ of people?

F: /?/ how about you?

W: Same.

F: /Oh yeah?/

F: It might be useful if we left at... I do have the

three, three o'clock /to make/...

W: Yeah, I do too.

AU: So what time should we shut down?

F: I think if you could make sure we're in our cars by

2:30 that would be /quite/ [AU: /?/ /OK, Yeah,

exactly/] /?/ /2:25, something like that/ /?/ /be

careful/ /?/ 2:20, /yeah/

W: Are they giving you a police escort?

F: I haven't asked for one; I've got a body guard now

/you know,/ /'I haven't/ or 'and'/ I could have an

escort, I may, I may get one.

W: /?/ I didn't need it the last two days but I think

that we should take it seriously. [Fischer: Yeah.] Of

course the people they want to stop getting places /?/


F: It's certainly the case that so far things are

better than expected.

W: Much.

F: But uh...

W: But then we didn't expect much. Until

Saturday-Sunday. But, my god, they're well-prepared,

aren't they, the police?

F: I went to, uh, well I met...

W: You went to see the mayor?

F: Well I went to see the mayor and then I ended up

speaking a lot to Ramsey and, uh, uh /his right-hand

guy, what's his/

W: Who's Ramsey, /then/?

F: The Chief.

W: Oh, Chief, oh good.

F: Oh he was terrific. They've got it all planned,


AU: So they've done their job, huh?

F: Yeah, I mean, they have one thing in mind which is

'No Seattle', that was, uh [AU: Yeah, right.] the

thing he kept making clear, now, the other thing he

said, Jim, that, that is certainly true, is sort of

every day that goes by we're, we're a little bit

further ahead. He said the worst thing that, that

/it/, he said if they have some success, the

demonstrators, then the whole thing is going to

escalate. /I mean/ So every peaceful day is a net gain

[W: /net for us/] for us.

W: That's interesting.

F: But he was also very, uh, I asked him if they are

going to use tear gas; he said that tear gas is

basically useless out of doors, and all it does is to

escalate matters. He said it's a very effective device

for clearing out a building, but it's not actually

much use in the outdoors and when you start using it

you always end up with a much higher level of tension

at the end than at the beginning.

AU: I remember an old tactic from the 60's...

F: [jokingly] We were on the wrong side of the

barricades, or the right side, as you see it. [Tone

perhaps implying a generic 'you' rather than referring

to Ben Ladner.]

AU: Well, [jokingly] I was an old philosophy

professor, what can I tell you. But, ah, in a

particularly large event in which there were hippies

flying around and people throwing things and all that,

somebody had the bright idea to bring about 10

colonies of bees and set them down and stir them up

and you have never seen a crowd disperse this quickly.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Once the bees did all their stuff they

all came back to the queen and they carted 'em off.

[Various: laughing]

W: Is that right!?

AU: That's the God's truth!

F: Who did that?

AU: /?/ I don't know who it was but I've often

thought, that's pretty cool... and, and every, and

what was funny about it everybody thought it was kinda

cool, you know, ha ha ha ha, they thought 'that's

really hip, you know? No bullets no, just, ah, scare

the bejesus out of everybody.' Ha ha ha ha ha.

W: It is a very clever idea, isn't it? Maybe we should

do that, /'Stan' or 'instead'/. Have an IFC and a

World Bank colony.

AU: Yeah, right.

F: [laughs?] [pause] You had people up there?

W: [to server] Could I possibly get a coffee, please?

F: You had people up there this morning?

W: I had /one from/, yes yes, Mats Karlson was there.

[F: Mm.] [pause] I think the best element will

probably be the questions /at the end/

[break in the recording, approximately 30 seconds to 1


AU: [sneeze] Pardon. Do you regard one of your

institutions being more susceptible than the other to


F: I suspect we each feel more susceptible than the

other, but [AU: Ha ha ha] I'm not sure. They go off to

Jim for a variety of things that /aren't like/, they

don't have a chance to go off for us for, but I

suspect that the underlying level of dislike may be

/higher/ for the Fund than the Bank. Am I right? I'm

not [AU: /Oh, that's inter.../] sure what you think,


W: I think probably that's right.

AU: Really?

W: /?/

F: They can get Jim on things like... they're after

them on pipeline projects on [AU?: Right] totally


W: After me on Tibet. They're, they get [AU?: Oh,

yeah.] after us on, [F: More on specifics.] on dams,

and specifics.

AU: Do they move to the higher level of the, the

concept of what you're trying to accomplish [Both: No,

no, no.] /there/ in a complicated way; they never get

to that. Just black and white.

W: It's all ad hominem, it's all, ah, [Someone

agreeing] they've brought in a [sic] indigenous person

who was displaced in 1975, and whose [AU: /Yeah/]

family has been ruined, [AU: Right.] and they'll then

blame us for the problems of Guatemala, [AU: Right.]

and we'll say that there was a civil war for 32 years,

and tens of thousands of people were killed down

there, and this probably had nothing to do with the

project, [AU: /Right/] but then someone will write a

book, um... it makes it very difficult to answer [AU:

Oh, yeah, right.] so you continue to try and deal with

the specifics, with the Chixoy Indians, which we're

doing, [AU: Right.] and then they agree, which they

did, and we solved the whole thing, and now there's

another Chixoy Indian coming /'out' or 'now'/ saying

'Well, we appreciated what you did, but now we want

reparations and damages.' [AU: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.]

and so they've got a [AU: You've got to start all over

again.] an Indian here who's very keen to do it. And

these indigenous people, I'm not suggesting they

didn't have problems, but they're also very smart.

[AU: Sure.] So they come up and they think, 'it's a

pretty good way to make a few bucks', ah. [AU: Right,


F: And you can't say anything about the victims /you

know, it's.../

AU: No, it's off limits.

AU?: /Yeah,/ completely.

F: /Well,/ a lot of the discussion is on the level of

'there is a problem and you are present therefore you

are guilty.'

W: Right. [pause, preparing for the luncheon talk] I'm

just looking for a piece of paper to write [Someone:

OK] down everything you say, Stan.

F: [joking] Oh yeah, Jim, that's big enough, much too


AU: Who wants to go first?

W: Ha.

F: Well, you do what my boss says.

AU: Ha ha ha, right, OK, I'll give a little

introduction and we'll be off the ground /before we/


W: No, I think it's more logical /?/

[pause, mic is pounded upon]

AU: Ladies and gentlemen, if I may interrupt, please,

ah, continue eating, ah, all I ask is that you stop

talking. Ah, we're about to embark on a very, ah,

interesting program. I'm Ben Ladner, president of

American University, and I want to welcome you today

to a very special program. Some of you who are here

and others know, if you weren't on our campus this

morning, we're in the midst of an all-day conference,

with some very exciting presenters and panelists and a

very exciting audience who's, ah, asked some very

penetrating questions already, so it is a very special

day. But it's also special because we have with us

today two eminent world leaders who lead institutions

that are charged with having greater cooperation, ah,

of doing things that are isolated and causing a great

deal of consternation and concern, but they're both

with us today, so they can talk not only with us but

to each other and see whether some of those concerns

really do pan out. [F?: /?/ /an opportunity here/ /?/]

But more importantly, I think, ah, it is a special

event, because we're engaging in a, ah, very important

and profound public event. That is, we are about to

embark on speaking and listening about consequential

issues. We will be giving voice to concerns, to

insight, to criticism, to understanding, and as I see

it, everything, liter-, literally everything, turns on

this intriguing and important dynamic. Universities, I

think, are one of the last bastions of, ah,

intelligent discourse, ah, on the planet. Ah, indeed,

that is our business. It's that one place that has

this incredibly simple and single overriding mission,

and that is to get people together to try to achieve

understanding. At universities, we try to ask the

question 'what can we know?' and 'what do others

know?' and 'how can we achieve insight, knowledge,

understanding, in a way that we didn't have it before

we got together?' Our whole institution is built on

that simple but fundamental principal. At American

University we think it's particularly important and

fitting that we be holding this conference and having

this luncheon, because we are, not only in theory and

advertisement but in actual practice, a leading global

university. We have on our campus the largest

international school in the United States, we have one

of the most diverse student bodies in the world with

more than 165 countries represented in our student

body. What this does, however, in working with our

students and faculty, is simply to remind us that as

other forces swirl around us, forces of protest,

forces yelling 'shut it down', we are here to embrace

the forces of reason and informed debate and open

dialogue. This, in fact, is the prescription. This is

the way ahead for this gargantuan phenomenon that we

call 'globalization'. There are voices that must be

heard. We all struggle to identify voices that have no

hearing, and yet there are institutions and leaders

and professors and others here today who spend most of

their waking hours trying to give a context in which

all voices can be heard and all concerns expressed.

It's against that backdrop that it's a special

pleasure for me to introduce people who, if it has

ever been true, need no introduction. And if you don't

know these two gentlemen, ah, you're at the wrong

luncheon. [laughter] Ah, Stanley Fischer is the, ah,

acting managing director of the IMF, and he will

address us first, and Jim Wolfensohn, as president of

the World Bank, what you may not know unless you were

at our commencement ceremony last year is that he is

an American University alumnus now because we gave him

an honorary degree, [laughter] ah, but, without, ah,

any other additional comment, they will make a brief

presentation on a few key issues, then they would

like, because I know them both, they invite and enjoy

tough questions. They want to deal with the kinds of

concerns and issues that you have and take them head

on, so don't be shy. I will moderate and we will try

to entertain as much discussion as we can once they

have completed their presentation. Thank you.


------------End of transcript-----------------

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