10 OCTOBER 1998, Page 28


The bankers cry into each other's champagne and catch each other's colds


TWashington he bankers' one bit of luck is that their crisis came on them so suddenly that it was too late to cancel their parties. These are always a feature of an International Mone- tary Fund meeting, which is the bankers' trade show, and they have spent the week crying into each other's champagne. Fear is circulating in Washington like a germ in the air-conditioning system of a jumbo jet, and by now they are, all of them, coughing and sneezing. They vainly hoped that while we were all here the doctors would announce a cure, some great new supranational initia- tive that would make everything all right. There are, in fact, any number of nostrums on offer, but all these are proposed as cures for the next outbreak. This one will have to sniffle its way out. Its symptom is a violent contraction of credit. This feels quite like a severe hangover after a colossal binge, and some hard-hearted specialists believe that it is exactly that.