The Snowden Time Bomb

PRINCETON – In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, world leaders repeated a soothing mantra. There could be no repeat of the Great Depression, not only because monetary policy was much better (it was), but also because international cooperation was better institutionalized. And yet one man, the American former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, has shown how far removed from reality that claim remains.

Prolonged periods of strain tend to weaken the fabric of institutional cooperation. The two institutions that seemed most dynamic and effective in 2008-2009 were the International Monetary Fund and the G-20; the credibility of both has been steadily eroded over the long course of the crisis.

Because the major industrial economies seem to be on the path to recovery – albeit a feeble one – no one seems to care very much that the mechanisms of cooperation are worn out. They should. There are likely to be many more financial fires in various locations, and the world needs a fire brigade to put them out.

The IMF’s resources were extended in 2009, and the organization was supposed to be reformed in order to give emerging markets more voice. But little progress has been made.