“Learned, Baroque, and Quite Frequently Terrifying”

The New Republic profiles the Financial Times's Martin Wolf

We’re big fans of the Financial Times’s Martin Wolf here at The Audit.

His Wednesday columns and occasional takeouts are just about the smartest financial journalism has to offer. Or as Julia Ioffe puts it (much better than I could, which is why I stole it for my headline), they are: “learned, baroque, and quite frequently terrifying.”

Ioffe, who’s done lots of great stuff for CJR, profiles Wolf for The New Republic. It’s well worth your time (and by way of disclosure: I talked to Ioffe about Wolf while she was reporting the piece) to get to know what makes this critical financial journalist tick.

Wolf worked for Robert McNamara at the World Bank, ran a think tank, and wrote lots of letters to the editor to the FT, which then hired him as an editorial writer in 1987, Ioffe reports. He knows all the “significant” central bankers, but doesn’t hesitate to slash pals like Tim Geithner with his pen.

A peak behind the curtains:

Knowing that Wolf is widely read and highly esteemed, major players in the economic world court his approval. The day after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced details of the Public-Private Investment Program, he called his old friend Wolf, who he knew was working on his Wednesday column. Geithner wanted to explain—and defend—the initiative. Wolf listened politely and, the following day, slammed the program as the “vulture fund relief scheme.”

If you read his column regularly, you know he’s non-ideological—a pragmatist who is not afraid to warn darkly of what may lie ahead, understanding that the apocalyptic is, in fact, all too possible, especially in the last two years. He attributes that view to his upbringing in postwar London by a Holocaust survivors whose families were just about wiped out.

“It made me extremely suspicious of political extremism, on both the left and the right, a strong believer in democratic freedoms, which was very much my father’s position,” he told me….

He was, he says, “very, very much formed by the sense that the catastrophe that befell my parents’ generation was in large part because of the Great Depression, which itself was the result of huge economic policy blunders.”

Go have a look, and if you don’t already, make Wolf a regular read.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.