As you probably know, after 30 years of service, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) — the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee — will be retiring at the end of the 113th Congress. While we are sad to lose one of our Congressional champions, I was thrilled to sit down with him in September, 2012 for an exclusive interview that will give ONE members the opportunity to better know a Member of Congress who has been described as “one of the smartest people on Capitol Hill.”
I was really nervous about the interview. Colleagues told me that I better know my stuff, and to keep my cool, because the interview subject is very unpredictable- in his mood and his responses. I did find comforting though the knowledge, that during his decades in Congress, Representative Frank has accomplished so much good for the American people and millions of others in need around the world, helping to push ONE’s agenda forward. I figured — any friend of those in need is a friend of ONE indeed.
In the short time I spent with the Congressman, I found him to be indeed unpredictable. He certainly was direct- often brushing aside the human interest questions I’d hoped would give insight into his personal philosophies and the source of his drive- but often providing those same insights, and displaying surprising humility, in his response to policy questions.
ONE: What do you do you think developing countries, particularly can learn from America in the area of public finance management. What do we do right here?
Rep. Frank: Ah, I think it is very important to cut back on corruption, very very important. And that means, by the way, paying public officials sufficient salaries. Doing so many be costly in the short-term, butthe corruption aspect is the one we need to work on the most. Also the notion of free entry,to prevent a monopoly-you don’t want to make it hard for people to go into business. Those are the two things I think we do well.
As past Chair and ranking member on the House Financial Services committee that oversees Wall Street and U.S. participation in the International Financial Institutions, how do you think the IMF and World Bank could better serve developing countries?
We’ve made a lot of progress from where we were 10 to 15 years ago. In fact, I’ve noticed the IMF has been critical of the excessive austerity being imposed on lower-income countries. I would like the IMF to continue the progress it’s making with the Doing Business Report. I want them to stop suggesting that being unfair or harsh on workers is good for you. But I think the current orientation for the IMF and World Bank is a good one.
What’s the most important vote you’ve ever taken in Congress?
Every vote is important. I don’t know about you, I don’t generally think that way. Do you think about the three most important books you’ve ever read? When people ask me those questions I don’t know.
Alright, so I’ll delete my question about your favorite books?
I don’t think that way, and by the way why is that relevant question? Why is that important that I name three out of thousands. I don’t understand that.
Having announced your retirement from Congress at the end of the 113th Congress, how are you going to stay involved in international development in the next chapter of your life?
I plan to write a book, at least one, give lectures, and be a commentator of public affairs. My general theme is going to be that you can have economic progress and fairness. That doesn’t mean no inequality — you need inequality. But I believe the key is you can have a manageable amount of inequality and that’s true both domestically and internationally.
Fifteen years ago we had a terrible problem with the International Financial Institutions, with the World Bank and the IMF forcing austerity on people, and we’ve made great progress in stopping that. But now what’s interesting to see is the European Union doing that to some of its own people. But I plan to be talking, both domestically and internationally, about the importance in combining both economic progress and fairness.
In fact, in a healthy economy, consumption expenditures by the people are important — and if we can make the case and the average citizen is too poor to spend money, you are never going to have a healthy component.
What do you think your biggest accomplishment in office was in terms of the fight against extreme poverty?
Oh I think it’s a mistake to talk about your own work. I have done a number of things in the area of trying to reorient the international financial institutions. I think we’ve done a pretty good job on that. Beyond that, the most important thing to have done (and I have not had much success, though I’ve tried hard) is to reduce the worldwide level of military expenditures beginning with America. That just takes resources away that we could use to fight poverty.
For our younger ONE members, what is the most creative grassroots effort that has caught your eye during your time in Congress?
The Tea Party. I disagree with their motives, but they have been the most effective mobilizers of grassroots pressure on Members of Congress that I can think of, unlike Occupy. The Occupy Wall Street movement has made the mistake of thinking if they just say things, it will affect things.
You need to get out there, register people to vote and get involved in campaigns. I wish it weren’t the case, but the Tea Party has been effective. I’ll tell you another one people here won’t like: the National Rifle Association. When a bill comes up involving guns, I hear from everyone in my district who thinks that way.
People make the mistake of thinking that demonstrations are the way to do it. Demonstrations may make you feel good, but getting people registered, getting people out there, getting the people you want elected to office, lobbying offices, that’s what makes a difference.
Extractives transparency is critically important to ONE. Our members have been active for two years, and we are working on it in Europe. What compelled you to include it as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act?
I’ve known about this issue for some time: the resource curse. And I’ve been deeply involved since the mid-90s in the financial work. It’s been hard to pass that on its own, but when I knew we were going to get a bill through (and that we had some Republican support in the Senate), I knew how important it was and the broader financial bill (Dodd-Frank) gave me an opportunity to get it done.
Who are the most compelling historical figures that have influenced your political thinking?
Senator Hubert Humphrey, a very effective liberal, and a man named Allard Lowenstein, who was an activist and one-term congressman. And someone who does not get a good review by some historians: Thaddeus Stevens. He was the main crusader before and after the Civil War against racism in this nation.
ONE has no reservations matching the Congressman’s candor by saying that Representative Frank has done some amazing things to help advance the fight against global poverty. He has voted for Global AIDS programs and multilateral debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries. He courageously leveraged his position the Financial Services Committee to help make transparency in the global extractives industry the law of the land, successfully fought to ensure that the IMF increases low-interest lending to low-income countries in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, and protected U.S. contributions to poverty-fighting multi-lateral instruments. As we wish the Congressman well in his next adventures, we also want to say “Well done and thank you for being a friend to ONE and to those in need.”