Dear friends, May 19, 2022
Life Begins at Eighty was a TV show in the mid 1950s. As our family only acquired a TV set later in the 1950s, I don’t think that I ever watched it. But I would like to take exception to its premise. For me, turning 80 is a time of reflection on a life well lived, no longer a continuation of the endeavor, or dare I say struggle, to achieve still more. As such it is a relaxed time of contemplation. I do not suffer Torschlusspanik. In fact, I am very grateful for having experienced a very interesting and eventful life.
When we are young it is all about preparing for and striving to do great things, or at least to realize our potential whatever that might be. As such it is a time of considerable tension. Will I make it? Will I graduate? Will I be hired/appointed? Will I get promoted? Will my project succeed? It is so nice to be beyond those.
I was born on my father’s birthday (what a gift) and raised in Bakersfield California. The first time I left my home state was also the first time I flew in an airplane, which was to New Jersey to prepare with others from around the country for a year abroad as part of the International Christian Youth Exchange (ICYE).
Two weeks of preparation later, we boarded the USS New York for a six-day Atlantic crossing to South Hampton then La Havre, France. In my case, at the age of 17, I traveled on by train to Kassel, Germany to meet the German family I would live with for the next year–my senior year of high school. Their house was in the nearby village of Rasdorf kreis Hünfeld in the Fulda Gap. My home for that year was a few hundred yards from the “ten meter strip” that marked the border with the DDR (East Germany)–the border dividing East and West Germany after WWII.
During that year in Germany (1959-60) I visited Berlin with my ICYE group. We attended my first opera in the Opera House located in what became East Berlin. The Berlin wall did not yet exist. I returned to Berlin and its Eastern Zone many times after the wall went up in 1961 and many times later after it come down in November 1989.
During that same year I graduated from Bakersfield High in absentia. When I returned home to the US, I attended Bakersfield College (the local Jr. College that allowed me to live at home for financial reasons for two more years) before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley. At Bakersfield College, with friends, I started and edited a politically conservative underground weekly paper we called the Weekly Blatt, thus launching a lifelong interest in public policy. It reflected the appreciation of the difference between free, capitalist economies and the repressive, impoverished communist ones that I saw and experienced from my year living on the edge of communist East Germany.
While at Berkeley, I was president of the University Conservatives and of my fraternity Alpha Tao Omega (ATO). When I heard Milton Friedman speak at Berkeley, I vowed to study under him at the University of Chicago. As the result of spending considerable time on the Free Speech Movement Council during my Senior year at Berkeley (1964) and misjudging the effort needed to slide through on a C in a very boring economic history class taught by a socialist, I was admitted on probation to the University of Chicago graduate program. But hard work and with Milton Friedman as Chairman of my dissertation committee (which also include Robert J. Gordon) eventually led to my PhD and an appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Economics Department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While studying at the University of Chicago, Professor Friedman introduced me to and sponsored my membership in the Philadelphia Society, which in those years held its annual meeting in Chicago. He later did the same for the Mont Pelerin Society, an international organization founded after WWII by Friedman, Fredrick Hayek, and others to defend free markets and liberalism against the socialism sweeping Europe at the time. Before finishing at Chicago, I took a year off to teach at the University of Hawaii where I married Louise Wilkinson who had left her graduate studies in the English Department at Chicago to teach at the University of Hawaii.
As a Californian, where history is largely about cowboys and Indians, I found Charlottesville, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson, a beautiful place wonderfully rich in American history. I loved my time there. My son, Brandon, and daughter, Daylin, were born there, which were transformative events as every parent knows.
After five years as an Assistant Professor at UVA, I joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for twenty-six years. Eight of those exciting years were spent leading the SDR Division of the Treasurer’s Department and the balance providing technical assistance to central banks in what is now called the Monetary and Capital Markets Department (MCM).
With the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991, I moved back to the MCM Department from the Treasurer’s Department and immediately led a team to the Bulgarian National Bank followed by multiple visits to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and a few years later to Moldova. The first half of 1992 we flew (back-to-back) to Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) in chartered planes. Later in that year I was on the maiden Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Almaty. The institutions of the former Soviet Union were totally unknown to us, and our counterparts were very eager to learn the ways of capitalist economies. It was a very exciting time.
My earlier years at the IMF were also personally traumatic. I had hidden my sexual attraction to men from myself for years and I was beginning to lose that battle. I struggled to face up to the reality and implications of that fact. I was frightened. It was not at all an easy time. When it was no longer possible to deny or repress the truth, I separated from and later divorced Louise. Sadly, she moved with my two kids back to her home in Mercer Island, Washington. A new chapter of my life began. As we often said at the time, “God made me a homosexual, but I chose (finally) to be gay.”
The most important event of this new life was my introduction in 1999 to Dr. Ito Briones from the Philippines by my friend W. Scott Thompson (Jan 1, 1942 – Feb 19, 2017). After finishing a Master of Arts degree at Boston University, Ito relocated to Washington, DC and moved in with me. He received a PhD in Molecular Biology at Georgetown University and worked in the National Cancer Institute (NCI) lab in Ft. Detrick for five years. Yes, Ito is a renaissance man and a wonderful companion. We were formally and legally married on June 5, 2011.
At the request of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (coming from my former Chicago classmate David Lindsey who had tried to recruit me from UVA earlier), the IMF seconded me to the Board staff for one year (1979). That was the year Paul Volcker moved from President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to Chair the Board of Governors in the middle of my stay. The Board room went from a nonsmoking zone under Chairman Bill Miller to Paul’s big cigars. It was a very exciting year as the Fed crushed the 11.4% rate of inflation.
In 1989 I was also seconded to the World Bank to help write that year’s World Development Report (on Financial Systems and Development). It was like being back in graduate school. It was a wonderful experience led by Millard Long and Stan Fischer (WB Chief Economist at that time).
After 26 years at the IMF, I retired in 2003 at the Assistant Director level. During those years, I had led technical assistance missions to over 20 countries, primarily in the Former Soviet Union and post conflict countries such as Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. But being only 62 (I had met the IMF’s rule of 85 for maximum pension–age plus years of service) I was not about to stop working.
In June 2003, I joined the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad for the US Treasury (see my Iraq book below). At the same time, I joined the Board of Directors of the Cayman Island Monetary Authority (CIMA) for the next seven years. Following that I was a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review from March 2011 to May 2017. While I no longer led missions, I joined them as a consultant member for the IMF, ODI in London, and Deloitte Consulting traveling to Albania, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Sudan, Yemen (virtually), West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe. Between January 2002 and September 2013, I traveled to Afghanistan 20 times.
I spoke at conferences in Argentina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, (Hangzhou) China, Paris, Ukraine, Freedom Fest in Las Vegas, London, Oxford, and the Eurasia Economic Forum in Astana, Kazakhstan. I attended Mont Pelerin Society meetings in Guatemala City, Nairobi, Sidney, Prague, Galapagos Islands, Hong Kong, and Stockholm.
But it was not all work. I had a wonderful father-son trip with my son Brandon to Athens and the Greek Islands in 1992 and to London and around Ireland in 1994. My grandson Bryce came with me to Kenya for an IMF mission to the central bank in 2010 during which we spent a weekend in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in the Rift Valley. The highlight was Bryce’s petting a live cheetah.
An almost annual highlight were the July gatherings at the home of Robert Mundell outside Siena, Italy, to discuss the international monetary system. In January 2015 my daughter Daylin’s marriage to Brett Baker in Las Vegas was great fun. In the summer of 2015 Ito and I spent a week in Southern Italy for the first time (Naples, Pompei, Sorrento, Capri, Sicily) following our usual Mundell gathering in Siena. Ito and I attended the Edinburgh International Festival four times (joined on one occasion my granddaughter, Micaela in 2017) and spent several wonderful weeklong stays in Bruges for Ito’s art classes (2017 and 2019). Another highlight was the award ceremony in London in March 2019 at which I was presented the Central Banking Journal’s first “Award for Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building of Central Banks, Especially in Demanding Circumstances.”
My work at the IMF (and elsewhere) and with the teams I led in the field was challenging, stressful, sometimes dangerous, and highly rewarding. I developed friendships with many central bank staff and officials in these countries and believed that my work and the work of the teams of experts I lead had made significant contributions to bringing more stable and efficient monetary and financial systems to the countries we worked in. It is highly disappointing to see the disintegration and backsliding of many of them (Bosnia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Kyrgyzstan).
Except for Turkey, the backsliding has been political rather than in monetary stability. To cite a few examples of dramatic central bank successes, the inflation rates dropped from 1,000% in 1998 to 1.2% in 2020 in Bulgaria, from 1,660% in 1993 to 6.8% in 2020 in Kazakhstan, and from 789% in 1993 to 4.4% in 2020 in Moldova. The lack of political healing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the annual inflation rate averaged 1.47 percent between 2006 and 2021, has been particularly disheartening. The messages I get almost daily from Afghanistan from friends wanting help in getting out are heartbreaking. And then, of course, the political environment in my own country has become dismal and divisive.
Were all my efforts for nothing? In fact, I am proud that I gave it my all whatever the result. I met and worked with wonderful people. The bonding with mission team members in the field, I imagine, was a bit like the war time bonding with your fox hole buddies. Life was not dull to say the least. I have written more extensively about some of these experiences in five books: “One currency for Bosnia-creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina” “My travels in the former Soviet Union” “My travels to Jerusalem” “My travels to Baghdad” and “My travels to Afghanistan”.
So, as I reach 80 years of age I can rest and am grateful for the life I have led. It was filled with struggles, pain, adventures, and joy. I married a wonderful woman (Louise Wilkinson) who mothered my two wonderful children who in turn gave me seven wonderful grandchildren and two adorable great granddaughters. My painful struggle with homosexuality evolved (through several chapters) into a wonderful relationship with the loving and multitalented Ito. I have been blessed with wonderful friends and colleagues.
My life is certainly not over yet, the curtains have not yet fallen, but looking back at my life—I am grateful for the many adventures it has led me on.
Thank you all.
4 thoughts on “My 80th Birthday”
Thank you for sharing the beautiful and inspiring (and fascinating!) story of your life on this milestone birthday. Here’s to many, many more happy returns of the occasion. I feel lucky to know you and call you a friend. All the best to you and Ito.
In the immortal words of Orson Welles, “it seems like you haven’t been sittin’ on your backside altogether.” Congratulations on a full life w/ many years to go!
As we say in Russia – the first 80 years of boys are the most difficult. I wish you good health and happy next 80 years!
Dear Warren, I am reading this hindsight summary of your 80th birthday. Some of which is familiar to me as I have been your friend since 1990. I am still finding out angles and experiences of your life, and it makes a lot of sense as they have molded your personality. The life in the international arena is very exciting and we have that in common. Also, reading about some of your friends – such as Scott Thompson, and most importantly, your husband Ito. Thanks for this reflections and I look forward to many more.