Sunday, July 19, 2009

D.C. - An Economist Wanders

The Institute of Medicine, the Gates Foundation, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and who knows how many others, brought together a wide array of speakers on the topic of "Mitigating the Nutritional Impacts of the World Food Crisis" last week. Per Pinstrup-Andersen - my boss - was on the planning committee and was the first speaker, and he knew that the conference would be both interesting and relevant for our project next year, so he invited me along. Rather than abandon my family for four days, by dropping them off with the Green M&Ms, we were only separated 2.5 days.

The conference ended each day at 5pm, after most of the interesting sites had closed, so I wasn't really able to go see much. Tuesday was the All-Star game (so close! We almost finally won.). But Wednesday night was open and available, so I went walking. I wandered for 3 hours altogether, from the hotel down to the mall, circling the Presidents in a grand, 10+ mile loop. Rather than try to present all of that at one large post, I'll make a handful of small posts with pictures by topic.

First stop of interest along my route: the US Treasury, with Albert Gallatin (Wiki: a Swiss-American ethnologist, linguist, politician, diplomat, Congressman, and the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury. He was also a founder of New York University). I haven't heard much out of Treasury in the last two years that I could cheer, but their recent announcement that they will be auctioning off the shares they currently own in other banks is a very welcome event (more info: here, courtesy Donald Marron).

Circling the Treasury and White House (forthcoming), you come to a much talked about institution of late: the FDIC. They're the ones who promise that your deposits are safe even if a bank goes under. In that unhappy event, the FDIC takes possession of the bank (aka nationalizes it) to unwind its debts and make sure you get your money back. So we've had a program of bank nationalization for over 70 years, and it's worked pretty well.

I was surprised to look to my side Thursday on my way to work and realize I was passing by the Inter-American Development Bank. The IADB is unique among the development banks because the developing countries are its majority shareholders - that is, they have a big role in calling the shots. This has on average tended to increase accountability and legitimacy, both in the bank and in the countries getting loans.

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