Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grown Ups

My grasp of democratic politics is virtually nil, and of such politics in Greece and Italy even weaker. But from a kind of child’s perspective and at a great distance, the changes at the top in these two countries, formalized in Greece, close to accomplished in Italy, look very interesting.

In Greece Lucas Papademos has become Prime Minister. Serious business; the NYT signals that by showing high clergymen in traditional Greek Orthodox garments administering the oath of office. Interesting figure. Papademos has degrees in physics, in electrical engineering, and a doctorate in economics all earned at MIT. He spent a decade teaching economics at Columbia University. He worked for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. He was also a visiting professor at the Kennedy School of Government and at Harvard. Thus far his career in the United States alone. In Europe he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Financial Studies at the University of Frankfurt. Next he rose from a position as chief economist at the Bank of Greece to become its governor a decade later. He went on from there to the European Central Bank as vice president. Last year he left that position to become an advisor to Prime Minister George Papandreou. Last, not least, he is a member of the Trilateral Commission. This is a high-level discussion group founded by David Rockefeller and organized (along with others) by Zbigniew Brzezinski. The “three” in that trilateral arrangement are the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Let me turn next to Mario Monti, most likely to become the new leader of Italy. Monti has degrees in economics and management from Bocconi University in Milan. He completed his graduate studies at Yale University under James Tobin, Nobel Prize winner in Economics (1981). (Tobin himself was on the Council of Economic Advisors and a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.) Monti began an academic career at the University of Turin. After five years there he returned to Bocconi University as a rector and then became its president. He is also first chairman of Bruegel, a Brussels-based economics think tank and is the European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission. He has served two terms as a member of the European Commission.

What are we seeing here? We’re looking at serious credentials, solid academic and administrative careers ending in executive positions. Independence. Appointed service to high level posts with international bearing in banking, finance, and economics.

When things have really, really ground to a halt, at last the call goes out to the grown ups. But can they sail the boiling oceans of greed, panic, and passion? These men, one feels, will give it the old college try.

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