I was here for the first time in June 1999, working as a consultant for the Treasury on introducing the first government floating rate note to finance public debt. I often come back. Years pass and Turkey remains so beautiful and proud. Its economy rises (with some critical weaknesses like the current account deficit and excessive foreign lending) fast, with export.
With 170 universities and 700.000 graduates, it insists in improving its record in education while its income per capita rises. Last night at the conference dinner I watch the rewarding of those Turkish entrepreneurs that have worked for improving schools and universities with donations and personal engagement. Suddenly, a speaker throws a Turkish saying into the conversation: “building a school means shutting down a penitentiary”. Yes, this is a beautiful saying. Yes.
I am at ease with this country and its optimistic vision for the future. I breathe fresh air, away from the stale one of my recessionary country. But I can’t refrain from seeing contradicting similarities.
The incredible growth performance of Turkey makes many of the politicians and Ministers that speak at the Conference happy, bold and proud, full of proposals and initiatives. I am reminded that our European recession has made our European politicians sad and grey.
Neither one is right. We need counter-cyclical politicians. Leaders capable of exploding with positive energy in the downturns and cautious and realistic in expansions. Tough to get. I am thinking of Velasco, the Minister of Finance of Chile who saved the copper revenues in the expansion to use them to support the economy when the price of copper, exported by Chile, collapsed. This is a leader. A counter-cyclical politician is a leader.
Tomorrow back to Rome. Instanbul is gorgeous especially in the spring and will be missed. Still, “building a school means shutting down a penitentiary”, was a statement worth the trip.