Blowhard hoisted by own petard
In any listing of modern history’s great sex scandals, the saga of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has got to rank at or near the top. The image of the sudden fall of the mighty is always a hot media seller. High-fliers crashing to earth before the eyes of the world inspire a sense of justice among those who will never approach them in notoriety, meaning almost everyone. The spice of sex adds special zest to the tale.
The arrest of Bernie Madoff for making off with billions was a great story not just for what it said about endemic corruption at the highest levels of global finance but also for the picture of an extremely wealthy man getting his come-uppance. In its own way, however, the downfall of ``DSK,” as Strauss-Kahn is known in the French media, is much better. Here’s a case of sex and violence by one whose position as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, a body with life-and-death power over much of the global economy, should have been beyond reproach. The story is more shocking than Bill Clinton’s transgressions in the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky. Whatever those blowhards did, after all, was consensual.
As one of the western world’s great blowhards, DSK in politics and finance inspired derision along with approbation. Gruff and loud-talking, he had a certain rough magnetic charm as he passed judgment on the global economy. What could be better than to find this one-time communist politico and socialist front-runner for the presidency of France not only loved $3,000-a-night hotel suites but assumed the maid came with the room? It may not be fair to think his life as a serial philanderer and accused rapist had an impact on the IMF, but one wonders whether it‘s possible to separate one from the other.
Actually, some knowledgeable observers in Korea may have quite a refined sense of the man. They got a full dose of him at the gathering of finance ministers and central bank governors in Gyeongju last October ― a run-up to the G20 summit last November in Seoul where they saw him cavorting yet again. The IMF leadership, after a tense two-day session in Gyeongju, began long-awaited ``quota reforms” ― a shift from over-represented to under-represented countries in IMF decision-making. The leaders, beside the U.S., Japan and four European countries, now include the four BRICs, Brazil, Russia, India and China. The U.S. remains at the top, but China comes in third and India, eighth.
``The IMF is playing an increasing role of being an ‘honest broker,’” DSK boasted, exulting in hard-wrought approval at Gyeongju after frustrating talks in Washington. ``A big day for Korea, a big day for the IMF. We won’t see a day like this every time.”
No one wondered, of course, how DSK was spending his spare time when he wasn’t blowing hot air in Gyeongju and then Seoul. Korean journalists might be advised to check where he was staying. As episodes of DSK’s transgressions surface, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have put in some quality time in Korea pursuing hotel staffers, not to mention others. Look for revelations of scandals involving DSK in Korea to add a local angle.
The question arises, though, how the IMF will fare with their leader cooling it in New York’s notorious Rikers Island hoosegow while waiting for a judge to spring him on some astronomically high bail. The answer could be, fine. With DSK, socialist doyen, challenger to the conservative rule of President Sarkozy though he might have become were it not for his indiscretion in New York, out of the way, perhaps the IMF can display serious empathy for those outside the orbit of the G7 of privileged, advanced, wealthy economies. Could it be that a non-European or non-American, an Asian maybe, will now succeed him at the IMF?
One reason for hope for the IMF is the expertise of the man I saw at DSK’s side in Gyeongju. That would be John Lipsky, deputy managing director of the IMF and now, in the absence of DSK, the IMF’s acting managing director. Lipsky was quite informative when I approached him after DSK had done sounding off. ``There was never any doubt about increased membership for some countries,” he explained to me. ``There’s a shared interest.” Patiently, Lipsky stressed ``improving the global financial safety net,” the ultimate insurance against disaster.
This month in Washington, I had one more encounter with Lipsky. At a baseball game in Nationals Park between the woebegone Nationals and the ``world champion” (some will dispute the use of the term ``world” to describe the winner of the ``World Series”) San Francisco Giants, I saw him seated not far from me. There he was studiously scribbling on his scorecard. In between at-bats, I reminded him I’d met him in Gyeongju and had quoted him in a magazine article. I promised, however, to ``try not to ask any questions during the game.” Lipsky politely responded, ``That would be appreciated,” before returning to his scorecard.
I was impressed by the care this world-class economist devoted to the nuances of a baseball game. Here was the mind responsible for extricating Greece from crisis applying his intellectual energy on a Sunday to recording hits, runs and errors in decisive lettering and lines as the Nationals prevailed, 5 to 2. Clearly, the IMF should be in good hands while the case of DSK versus the maid provides shock-appeal fun through the dog days of summer.
The writer is the author, most recently, of ``Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine,” published by Palgrave Macmillan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.