Friday, December 2, 2011

Why IMF did nothing when Russia defaulted

We hear relatively little about the struggles between “area” departments, which tend to be relatively sympathetic to the countries they oversee, and “functional” departments such as those responsible for monetary and fiscal policies, which tend to be more critical. Certain departments within the IMF are notorious for being more or less open to new ideas; one functional department during the period in question was informally referred to, less than fondly, as the thought police. Again, this is something about which one would wish to learn more.­...
The book turns next to the Mexican, Russian, and Asian crises. Although these episodes have been extensively analyzed, Boughton offers a few revelations. We are told, for example, how the IMF first learned of the peso’s impending devaluation not from the Mexican government but through an offhand remark by a high-ranking U.S. official. We learn that the reason the IMF did not do more to discourage Russia from defaulting was because of a telephonic miscommunication between Camdessus, on summer vacation in Bayonne, France, and the Fund’s man in Moscow, John Odling-Smee.­
At points the drama is compelling. One cannot help but be impressed by the number of emergency phone calls at 2:00 a.m., and by how frantically IMF officials shuttled to Moscow and Jakarta to keep the world economy from falling off a cliff.­
Boughton describes just how close the world came in 1995, in 1997, and again in 1998 to a “Lehman Brothers moment.” In retrospect it is clear that, already in the 1990s, something was dreadfully wrong with a global financial system that was so vulnerable to collapse. One wonders why the IMF did not do more at the time to rectify the problem.­
See the full review of the book by Eichengreen.

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