Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Overhauling the IMF

by MARK WEISBROT

The International Monetary Fund turns 65 this year. Until the current economic crisis, it had reduced its workload drastically to a near-retirement level. Its total loan portfolio plummeted by 92 percent in four years. But like many senior citizens who have been hit by the world recession, the Fund has kept working past retirement age – and is now expanding its responsibilities.

The IMF has a track record, which seems to have been almost completely ignored in discussions of a proposed $750 billion increase in its resources. Nearly twelve years ago a financial crisis hit Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. The word “contagion” became part of the financial reporting lexicon as the crisis spread to Russia, Brazil, Argentina and other countries.

The IMF’s response to that crisis was roundly criticized by economists at the time. Jeffrey Sachs, then at the Harvard Institute for International Development, called the IMF “the Typhoid Mary of emerging markets, spreading recessions in country after country.” Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, also criticized the Fund for its mishandling of the Asian crisis, and went on to write systematic critiques of a number of IMF policies.

In the Asian crisis, the Fund failed to provide desperately needed foreign exchange when it was most needed. It then imposed policies that worsened the downturn. It did the same in Argentina, and lent tens of billions of dollars to prop up an unsustainable exchange rate, which inevitably collapsed along with a record sovereign debt default.

After that experience, many middle-income countries piled up reserves so that they would never have to depend on the Fund again.

No one at the IMF was held accountable for the mistakes that caused so much unnecessary unemployment, lost output, and poverty. Nor were any major reforms of the institution introduced. The Fund has 185 member countries, but a handful of rich countries – mostly the U.S., Europe, and Japan – have a solid majority and the U.S. Treasury is the Fund’s principal overseer.

The IMF claims that it has changed, but a look at nine “standby arrangements” – its basic short-term loan agreement — that it has negotiated since September of last year reveals a number of the same mistakes that it made in the last crisis. All of them provide for spending cuts, despite the IMF’s avowed commitment to a worldwide fiscal stimulus.

El Salvador has signed an agreement with the IMF that prevents it from using expansionary fiscal policy – as the United States is now doing – to counter a downturn. Since El Salvador has the U.S. dollar as its currency, fiscal policy – increased spending or lower taxes – is practically the only too it has to fight a recession that is practically inevitable as the U.S. economy continues to shrink. El Salvador gets 18 percent of GDP in the form of remittances from the U.S., and exports about 9.6 percent of GDP there.

Pakistan has agreed to significant spending cuts, as well as raising interest rates, despite negative demand shocks to the economy. Ukraine has also had to battle with the Fund over public spending cuts, despite the fact that GDP is falling by 9 percent this year and the country has a low public debt.

These and other examples indicate that in spite of the depth of the world recession, the Fund is too willing to sacrifice employment, and increase poverty, in pursuit of other goals. A country can always reduce a trade deficit by shrinking its economy, since that causes households and businesses to import less. The main purpose of IMF lending in the current crisis should be to enable low- and middle-income countries to do more of what the rich countries are doing: adopt stimulus packages that counter the downturn.

Most countries can do this, if they do not run into balance of payments problems. China, for example, has nearly $2 trillion in international reserves, and can therefore pursue a large fiscal stimulus. If the IMF were willing to help, more countries could follow suit.

Governments should not commit more money to the IMF without requiring that institution revisit its recently negotiated agreements, and adopt serious reforms that will require accountability and changes in policy.

MARK WEISBROT is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]