An IMF We Can Love?

Until the onset of the global economic crisis, the IMF seemed condemned to run out of income, in addition to losing its raison d’être. Now, following the G-20 summit in London, its lending capacity has been tripled, while traditional conditionality will be relaxed and developing countries will gain a larger say in how the organization is run.

CAMBRIDGE – What a difference the crisis has made for the International Monetary Fund. It was just a few months ago that this important but unloved institution, a landmark of post-war global economic arrangements, seemed destined to irrelevance.

The IMF has long been a whipping boy for both left and right – the former because of the Fund’s emphasis on fiscal rectitude and economic orthodoxy, and the latter because of its role in bailing out indebted nations. Developing nations grudgingly took its advice, while advanced nations, not needing the money, ignored it. In a world where private capital flows dwarf the resources at its disposal, the IMF had come to seem an anachronism.

And, when some of the IMF’s largest debtors (Brazil and Argentina) began to prepay their debts a few years ago with no new borrowers in sight, it looked like the final nail in the coffin had been struck. The IMF seemed condemned to run out of income, in addition to losing its raison d’être. It shrank its budgets and began to downsize, and, while it was handed some new responsibilities in the meantime – surveillance over “currency manipulation,” in particular – its deliberations proved largely irrelevant.

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