At the Global Crossroads

by Sylvia Ostry
ISBN: 0773526374

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A Review of: At the Global Crossroads: the Sylvia Ostry Foundation Lectures
by Martin Loney

Sylvia Ostry has been a prominent Canadian public servant, chief economist, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and chair of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Not surprisingly this slim collection of essays organized by the Foundation established by her friends and admirers addresses some of the key economic questions facing Canada and the world. The issues of globalization and the rapid increase in world trade and economic integration loom large.
The six lectures collected here were all given by prominent public figures, including Jacques Delors, former head of the European Commission, and Michael Camdessus, managing director of the International Monetary Fund from 1997-2000. There is often a trade off between an opportunity for wide-ranging discussion and the merits of hearing from insiders who may be tempted to push the agenda of their parent organizations at best or even exculpate their own contribution. Camdessus outlines an enhanced role for the IMF and his strictures on the need for G7 countries to pay attention to their fiscal credibility and "their special responsibilities as issuers of reserve currencies" bear repeating. The Bush administration's squandering of the strong fiscal balance left by Clinton and the soaring U.S. deficit must inevitably affect not only the economic prospects of the U.S. but the stability of the dollar internationally and thus the world economy. However those looking for a robust defence of the IMF against charges that it has neglected the world's poor while ensuring that restructuring programs favoured foreign lenders will find little of substance here.
The most forthright contribution is the final chapter, a lecture delivered by the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker. In a refreshingly frank intervention Volcker castigates corporate greed, the abuse of stock options and the outright plundering of corporate resources. Volcker notes with dismay the decline in auditing standards as major accounting firms have sought to diversify into more profitable activities with inevitable conflicts of interest. The auditor Volcker reminds us is "mandated to serve the investor, not the particular corporate client." As a call for the revitalization of "democratic capitalism" from one of its leading exponents this is a tour de force.
Elsewhere Enrique Iglesias, President of the Inter-American development Bank, welcomes Canada's growing interest in the region and urges greater attention to Canada's role in trade and political development. Some Canadians look nostalgically to Europe for an alternative to our overwhelming dependence on U.S. trade. The Europeans have shown little reciprocal enthusiasm. Latin America and the Caribbean, in contrast, are banging on the door, with a market of 500 million and a complementary interest in resisting U.S. continental hegemony while working to increase trade and other relationships.

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