Overhauling the IMF


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 the forthcoming book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?