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The IMF Head Can't Come from Emerging Markets Unless They Get Behind a Candidate

It is time for the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund to come from an emerging market country. But that has been said often before. Whining about the injustice of the 65-year duopoly under which the IMF MD comes from Europe and the World Bank President comes from the US won’t change anything. Only if emerging market countries were to unify quickly behind a single strong candidate would they have a shot at the post. They are evidently too fragmented even to make an effort to come together in this way. Thus the job will probably go to a European yet again.

Why should the person come from the South instead of Europe? After all, the oft-repeated principle that the IMF Managing Director should be chosen on merit rather than nationality need not necessarily mean a departure from the past practice of choosing Europeans. Europe of course has some well-qualified candidates. Christine Lagarde is very impressive and capable (though I would ideally have preferred someone with economics training for this job rather than a lawyer).

But the proposition that the ongoing sovereign debt troubles in Europe’s periphery are a reason to appoint a European is wrong. Ms. Lagarde herself seems to acknowledge this. If anything, someone without a stake in Europe might be better situated to deal with the Greeks and the others.

The important point is that Europe has by now lost its implicit claim to be the best source of serious sober adults with the experience required to run the world monetary system. There may have been a time when the adult-child metaphor had a kernel of truth. In the 1980s, for example, the Fund was run by highly capable Managing Directors from France, during a period when huge budget deficits and even hyperinflations ran wild in the developing world. But that time is past.