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
President Ladner's introduction for the speakers is
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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/
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
AU: That's what so odd.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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
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?
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.
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