|Jan Joost Teunissen interviewing Robert Triffin, 1985.|
Interview with Robert Triffin by Jan Joost Teunissen, 1985, transcript
-Why are you afraid of scepticism?
Because it leads to doing nothing. If you are sceptical of any proposal, it means that you are not trying to implement those proposals no matter how good they are. My friends very often say, ‘Your proposal is splendid but what chance is there of getting it accepted?’
I prefer to be wrong in my predictions nine out of ten, than to be right nine times that we go to the slaughterhouse. If I have one out of ten or even hundred of taking us away from the slaughterhouse, I think that’s worth it. I rather be a good advisor than a good prophet.
-Why is utopia lacking with most of the economists?
Because for somebody who wants to influence policy it is very important to keep the ear of the Minister or the people in power, and there is a great deal of – especially in the US but also to some degree in Europe – overlapping between an academic career and a governmental career. You are in academics but you are borrowed as part time advisor or full time consultant by the Minister, and if you want to preserve that position you have to preserve the ability to influence the Minister. (…)
- Don’t you think that the financial authorities themselves see that scepticism or cynicism as a positive quality?
Yes, it is always easier to do the easier things. Demagogy is easier than good advice. Simple slogans have far more impact on public opinion and politicians than any rational analysis. Actually, policy decisions are dominated by slogans. (…) Many of my best friends share those slogans.
-People like Wim Duisenberg [then Governor of the Dutch Central Bank] not only lack utopia, but also a basic, simple thing: contact with people in the countryside of developing countries or even here [in Europe].
I lived for months, nearly a year, in countries like Honduras, Paraguay, so that I have some knowledge at least of the rural people, below the elite classes. I feel very much like Tinbergen, that’s why I have such admiration for him. He seems to me a real humanitarian and humanist… On the whole he was not so much appreciated by central bankers. (…)