Outside Edge: Sleepless in Seoul

13th November, 2010

As I write this paragraph, it’s midnight. Or possibly lunchtime. I’m in a hotel room in a city which, I am reliably informed, is Seoul. I got here too late for breakfast but in plenty of time to go to bed at 3pm. Does that make any sense? I really am extraordinarily jet lagged.
The South Koreans are very proud that the G20 summit was held in Seoul, but perhaps that is mostly relief that they didn’t have to negotiate in the wrong time zone – no such luck for most of their guests.
This is in the nature of summitry: leaders whose powers of decision are so indispensable they fly all over the globe, exercise those powers of decision in what can only be described as a highly impaired state.
I have become very concerned – possibly this is just an insomniac’s paranoia – at the amount of important business that seems to be conducted by people who are equally sleep-deprived. The German finance minister called American monetary policy “clueless” last week. I am not sure it was fair then. But it seems a pretty accurate description of how many of the sleepless summiteers must have been feeling last night.
Powers of decision? Even my eyeballs are indecisive. Every time I stop concentrating on them – I was going to write “looking at them”, but how can you look at your own eyeballs? – they start drifting around, sometimes bumping into each other and sometimes edging apart. Is this a common symptom of sleep deprivation, or is it just me?
You’re also going to have to forgive the odd tpyo, I’m afraid.
Don’t get me wrong. I can handle jet lag. It’s just that I’m not sure it’s a terribly good idea to do anything important in this state. Should the future of the world economy really be decided by men and women so tired they just want to curl up in a corner?
This may account for some of the summit’s disappointments. For example, the Americans and Koreans have failed to agree a bilateral trade deal, the whole point of which was to create an impression of progress which the summit proper was always likely to lack.
Jet lag explains all. I get very ratty myself when I’m short of sleep. At least nobody has repeated the performance of the late Shoichi Nakagawa, the Japanese finance minister who managed almost simultaneously to sign away a colossal sum of money to the International Monetary Fund, and slur his words at a G7 press conference last year.
Mr Nakagawa blamed medication for a cold, and others speculated that he had been at something stronger. The way I feel, I can assure you all that the jet lag would have been enough to cause his incoherence. Now we hear that grumpy late-night discussions about currency wars at the G20 were only resolved by an agreement to pass the buck to the IMF. That makes some sense. Say what you like about IMF staff, they always try to get a good night’s sleep.
The writer is going to bed

First published on ft.com

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