The CIGI Atrium during a conference in May 2011 (Lisa Malleck/CIGI Photo).
The CIGI Atrium during a conference in May 2011 (Lisa Malleck/CIGI Photo).

The circus is coming to town!

That’s the way it feels to me on days like today – the eve of a major conference at CIGI.

As Irving Berlin wrote:

Twill give you a wonderful thrill
Chase away those weary blues
Ain't you heard the happy news?
Circus is coming to town!

In the cavernous sky-lit atrium of the CIGI building – our own 'big top' – the roadies from Frischkorn Audio Visual are noisily rolling out their giant red crates, full of amazing high-tech sound and audio equipment. Pipe and drape are rising around the edges. 

Around the building, staff are in a last-minute whirl of activity – are the name tags and media kits ready? Any changes to the Program? Are the international attendees arriving, despite the February snow storm?

Posters are going up, on foam-board, on our big electronic Christie MicroTiles, and at the CIGI home page, announcing the conference theme:  Sovereign Debtors in Distress: Are Our Institutions Up to the Challenge?

Admittedly, this show has no actual trapeze artists, elephants or dancing horses. It’s a deep examination of the most urgent challenge to the global economy, the restructuring of debt in countries such as Greece, and whether we have the right processes and institutions to achieve the best outcomes.

Yet it’s tempting to stretch the Barnum & Bailey metaphor, and say that the conference organizers have at times been jugglers and contortionists. Lining up dozens of world-leading experts and observers of sovereign debt – economists, bankers, scholars and financial regulators – and getting them all to Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, for three days in winter can be a high-wire act. So far, no slips.

This show is a co-production of CIGI and our partners at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), in New York. It means we’ve got two ringmasters, our two organization’s executive directors:  Thomas A. Bernes at CIGI, and Rob Johnson at INET. We’re also excited to be welcoming INET’s founder, George Soros, on his first trip to CIGI and Waterloo.

Attendees also include John T. (Jack) Boorman, former director of the Policy Development and Review Department of the International Monetary Fund; Anatole Kaletsky, editor-at-large of The Times, vice chair of Gavekal Dragonomics; the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, former prime minister and finance minister of Canada; Gordon Theissen, former governor of the Bank of Canada; and Andrés Velasco, former finance minister of Chile.

The conference is by invitation only and held under Chatham House Rule, which means that what the speakers say cannot be attributed to them without their consent; the point of that rule is to encourage an open and frank discussion. (Nevertheless, media are invited to register for the conference, freely able to report the substance of the discussion without attribution, and to interview attendees on the record with their consent.)   

The goal this weekend is to surface ideas for innovation for global financial regulation and macro-economic coordination. The best ideas may inform the work of all attendees and certainly of CIGI and INET, in published reports and papers that will be public and freely shared with the world.

If those good ideas find traction – and the wider networks of the conference’s many esteemed attendees are well positioned to help influence progress toward reforms – then the Sovereign Debtors conference may contribute tangibly to the creation of more stable economic systems. In the end, a more reliably healthy global economy – offering greater prosperity for people everywhere – would be “the Greatest Show on Earth.”

Admittedly, this show has no actual trapeze artists, elephants or dancing horses. It’s a deep examination of the most urgent challenge to the global economy.
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.