One of the little-noticed but most important international responses to the current world recession is the reassertion of power by the International Monetary Fund, which ten years ago was the most powerful financial institution in the world. The IMF answers mainly to the U.S. Treasury Department, although it is ostensibly a 185-country member organization.
The Treasury Department is using the IMF the same way it did ten years ago, during the last major financial crisis, in East Asia. Treasury is trying to re-establish the IMF’s former pre-eminent position as gatekeeper to any rescue funds. This would enable the IMF/Treasury to choose which developing countries get loans and what conditions are attached to the lending.
The IMF played a disastrous role in the Asian crisis, which is one of the reasons that its portfolio shrank to almost nothing over the last decade, and any country that could, avoided them like the plague. Now they are back, unreformed and unreconstructed. Despite the G20 meeting’s lip service to making some developing countries partners in international financial reform, the idea of giving them any more representation in the IMF’s decision-making is decidedly off the agenda. China, the world’s second-largest economy with 1.3 billion people, has just 3.6 percent of the vote in the IMF; the United States has 16.5 percent. But since Europe and Japan virtually always side with the United States, the developing countries are effectively without a voice.
While the IMF wants the rich countries to adopt large stimulus packages and lower interest rates to counter the world recession, it is requiring its borrowers — so far Iceland, Hungary, Ukraine, and Pakistan — to do the opposite. Perhaps even worse, some countries will need to adopt capital controls, to prevent damage from money fleeing the country; the IMF will use its muscle to prevent that. Washington and the U.K. are trying to get the countries with surplus reserves — mostly China and the Gulf states – to pitch in to the IMF. So far, only Japan is willing to do so. Hopefully, the developing countries that have excess international reserves and want to help those who need them will find other ways to channel the money.
Original published on the Hill Blog.
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