WASHINGTON (October 8): WHAT has happened to the yearly meetings of the world's financial leaders gathered together under the banner of the International Monetary Fund? Either they are buried under an avalanche of caviar, swamped in a flood of gin, or have simply outlived their usefulness.
Exactly 12 months ago in Nairobi we were promised a solution to monetary chaos by July 31, 1974 - a suggestion which, even then, was greeted with unseemly hoots of derision.
The latest gathering in Washington broke up without any such predictions being made. The Canadian Finance Minister found himself chief of an interim committee to study re-distributing oil wealth - and the rest of us left wondering how long was 'interim'.
All of this went way over the head of the average American who is fighting inflation ranging from 12 to 16 per cent, and unemployment of between six per cent and 20 per cent depending on your colour and the particular strata of society you fall into.
The old newspaperman's standby to get a potted version about what ordinary people are actually thinking is the taxi-driver. On the first morning, I struck gold in the shape of a driver who talked almost as fast as his meter clocked over.
The solution he said, was 'higher taxes - take the money away from the spenders who splash it around just like the crazy Government did in the [expletive deleted] war.' Our friend was justified in his comment.
An unscheduled and dramatic exit from his B-52 bomber plane over Vietnam left him minus one eye, part of a lung, and one kidney.
On the plus side, the Government gave him a life pension of US$1,100 a month.
With a fleet of six taxis - how he got his driving licence is a mystery - the informant warmed to his theories but they became a little too racist.
In America, the extraordinary is the normal, a desk clerk in my hotel (who recently discovered that his 16-year-old son was growing marijuana in the backyard to help put him through college) firmly believes that the world is headed for another economic slump on a scale comparable with the early 1930s.
'I used to own stocks in those days and I woke up one morning to find that Wall Street had collapsed' he said, 'seems to me the same thing is happening again, but slower'.
Affluence? Tell that to the waitress in a diner who works a Chinese style double shift amounting to 16 hours daily to rake up US$150 in order to support two sons - husband missing in Cambodia.
Sitting with newly acquired friends in the Washington National Press Club, about the only place one could afford to eat in the City, I got a grandstand view of 14th Street of the Government Printing Office.
It was from this ugly red building that the billions of dollars were churned out to pay for the staggering sums of aid that the US has handed out over decades - and the cash that paid for Vietnam.
It might have been the mist, or the stiff bourbons produced by the club, but there seemed to be a cloud of smoke hanging over the printing edifice. Money to burn? Not any longer.