18 OCTOBER 1991, Page 30

The prodigal son

IT SHOULD have been an historic moment and perhaps, after all, it will be. The Soviet knock on the IMF's door means, or should mean, that the world at last has one international financial system, one set of common assumptions underlying it, one pair of institutions designed (by Keynes) to serve it, one club open to all. Even Albania wants to join. Only Cuba and North Korea sulk outside. Cambodia never got round to resigning, hut 16 years ago the Khmer Rouge blew up the central bank, scattered its notes to the winds, and abol- ished money. Now the Cambodians are coming back. Club members, senior and junior, are in fact becoming increasingly cross with the candidate from ,Moscow. Damn' feller, turns up late, mucks up all the arrangements, wants everything re- arranged to suit him, hogs all the time and attention, virtually takes over our annual get-together, not even a member, may never be .. . The Soviet delegation is here in the role of the prodigal son, and there are a large number of elder brothers who consider themselves well-behaved — at least by Soviet standards — and find that their virtue has, this year, to be its own reward. They resent it. For all that, the return of the prodigal is what matters, if he really is back and can stop being prodigal. Western ministers and bankers came here doubting that, and for all the warmth and sincerity of their public welcomes, they will go away with their private doubts deep- ened.