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William Grimes Named to Council on Foreign Relations

One of several BU experts at star-laden think tank


Japan’s economic misery has been a focus of William Grimes’ scholarship. Photo courtesy of William Grimes

The economic fallout from Japan’s nuclear crisis—supply interruptions and lost business—has caught the eye of William Grimes, a BU expert on Asian economies. His research had already yielded insights into Japan’s economic travails in recent decades and the economies of East Asia generally.

That work has paid off with Grimes receiving life membership on the Council on Foreign Relations. The New York–based independent, nonpartisan think tank has been a who’s who of diplomats and foreign policy intellectuals (and a bogeyman of elite-fearing conspiracy theorists) since its founding in 1921. It publishes the influential magazine Foreign Affairs.

Council membership requires a nominating letter from a member and supporting letters from other members. Kent Calder, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, nominated Grimes, 45, professor and chairman of the College of Arts & Sciences international relations department. Calder taught Grimes at Princeton, where the latter earned a doctorate.

“Bill is the finest PhD student I had in 20 years at Princeton,” Calder says. He nominated his former pupil for is “extraordinary combination of skills—Japanese language fluency, leadership ability, and plenty of political savvy. He will be a tremendous asset to the council, and I look forward to working with him there and elsewhere. He has a tremendous future ahead in mediating and stabilizing trans-Pacific relations.”

Joining the council’s 4,300-plus members—the board of directors includes former secretaries of state Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, as well as Tom Brokaw—gives entree to closed meetings and teleconferences that “are often very enlightening,” Grimes says.

“The main benefit to my teaching will be access into the thinking behind major issues in international relations,” he adds. “I also tend to make use of a lot of interviews in my research, since I focus on contemporary issues, and CFR meetings will be a good way of expanding the circle of people from whom I can learn.”

That focus on current issues is what brought him to the council’s attention, Grimes says. “My work has tended to be quite policy-relevant. I interact fairly often with policy makers” at the U.S. Treasury and Japan’s Finance Ministry and central bank. Calder cites Grimes’ most recent book, Currency and Contest in East Asia (Cornell University Press, 2008), the first English-language volume to study the political workings of East Asia’s financial regions; it won the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Book Award. Grimes is also known for his work on Japanese macroeconomic policy, having written his first book on the politics and policies that inflated the country’s stock and real estate bubbles, which burst in the 1990s. Last year, China surged past Japan to become the world’s second largest economy, as the Rising Sun endured the lingering hangover of a two-decade recessionary slowdown.

Grimes also credits BU’s reputation in international relations, the most popular major at CAS, for bringing his work to CFR’s attention. He cofounded and was inaugural director of the University’s Center for the Study of Asia, which helped make BU a preeminent hub of Asian research, and “my application to the CFR benefited from that,” he says. (Other BU members of the council include Andrew Bacevich, Charles Dunbar, David Fromkin, Augustus Richard Norton, Charles Stith, and Robert Zelnick.)

As for Japan’s future after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting nuclear fallout, he says that it’s “hard to see the country that I have lived in or studied for over 30 years subjected to this kind of disaster.” But news reporting may be hyperbolizing the economic consequences; while banks estimate reconstruction costs at up to 20 trillion yen, he says, that’s manageable in a 480 trillion yen economy. “The necessary increases in public deficits and debt will not be enough to push Japan into a fiscal crisis either, although the long-term picture was already challenging.” Rebuilding will also boost employment and GDP after the first three to six months, he says.

The main challenge for Japan now, Grimes predicts, will be repowering its electrical grid.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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