Where did the Arab billions go? Via the ""pin-stripes"" to the ""ragged edges of the developing world"" (in large part, to...



Where did the Arab billions go? Via the ""pin-stripes"" to the ""ragged edges of the developing world"" (in large part, to finance deficits caused by the oil crisis). With the cogency and panache to which we've grown accustomed, Sampson (The Seven Sisters, The Arms Bazaar) delivers an up-to-the-minute, historically-grounded report on international banking: from the Medici to Citibank, from (risky) 19th-century US railroad investment to the ransoming of the hostages and the temporary bail-out of Zaire. The stakes have soared--development means ""progress,"" the poor want theirs: Sampson traces the ""aid"" concept from WW II ""aid"" to Britain though disillusion with governmental aid (after Ghana's early extravagance and the Alliance-for-Progess fizzle). The ensuing system is a global grid--with ""money/center"" banks (not governments) making loans to sovereign states (not corporations) in ""expatriate money freed from government controls."" The lenders are sellers--hard-sellers: in the more corrupt (or shakier) countries, ""like offering crates of whiskey to an alcoholic."" See the results in Indonesia and Zaire (in Turkey, Poland, and Brazil). ""But how safe was their money, who was really bearing the risk?"" Before returning to that question, in the last chapters, Sampson does outtakes on: the dilemma of lending to racist South Africa; the Super-competitors (Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore)--and why India isn't among them; the world's largest banking institutions (only two of the top ten--Bank America and Citicorp--now American); and such sidelights as Grand Cayman Island, haven for refugee dollars, and credit cards, refuge for banks from local usury laws. Periodically the focus shifts upward--to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the North-South stand-off: Sampson himself was editorial adviser of the 1979 Brandt Commission, set up by World Bank president Robert MacNamara (""quite able to talk as a computer and as a missionary"") to achieve North-South recognition of mutual interests and arrive at a consensus. The banks, collecting ""their interest and profit without worrying too much about getting their capital back,"" are implicated too: ""Whether they saw it as aid or hard-headed business, they were caught up in the complex and bewildering process of development, together with the aid-givers, the world agencies and the United Nations."" As an answer, that amounts to a plea for ""trust."" As an exhumation, though, it's acute on personalities, institutions, the whole political/economic/social matrix. And as usual with Sampson, it makes for prime reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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