A long-awaited reform of the International Monetary Fund has now been carelessly blocked by the US Congress. This decision is just the latest in a series of self-inflicted blows since the turn of the century that have needlessly undermined the claim of the United States to global leadership.
The IMF reform would have been an important step in updating the allocations of quotas among member countries. From the negative congressional reaction, one might infer that the US was being asked either to contribute more money or to give up some voting power. (Quotas allocations in the IMF determine both monetary contributions of the member states and their voting power.) But one would then be wrong. The agreement among the IMF members had been to allocate greater shares to China, India, Brazil and other Emerging Market countries, coming largely at the expense of European countries. The United States was neither to pay a higher budget share nor to lose its voting weight, which has always given it a unique veto power in the institution.
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.
Korea may have an opportunity to exercise historic leadership, when it chairs the G-20 meeting in Seoul, November 11-12. This will be the first time that a non-G-7 country has hosted the G-20 since the larger, more inclusive, group supplanted the smaller rich-country group in April of last year as the premier steering committee for the world economy. With large emerging market and developing countries playing such expanded economic roles, the G-7 had lost legitimacy. It was high time to make the membership more representative. But there is also a danger that the G-20 will now prove too unwieldy, in which case decision-making might then revert to the smaller group.
The members of the eurozone and the EU have apparently decided that they must heroically rescue Greece, that this is better than having the IMF do it. Senior figures in Brussels feel that the latter alternative is unthinkable. I am a little confused about why. Martin Wolf writes in the Financial Times this week that to bring in the Fund “would demonstrate that this is not a true union at all.” But the EU and EMU and not true fiscal unions. If the citizens of Germany and other more successful countries were willing to bail out the Greeks, then fine; the EMU would be ready to be a fiscal union. But they are not; so it is not. Given that reality, what is wrong with something that “demonstrates” it?
The members of the G-20 are meeting in Washington on November 15 to discuss reform of the global financial system. The first thing to say about the calls for a “new Bretton Woods” is that they overreach, in the sense that it is very unlikely that any changes in the structure of the international monetary or financial system will or should, at this point in history, come out of multilateral discussions that are big enough to merit comparison with the first Bretton Woods. Certainly we are not talking about fixing exchange rates, as the 1944 meeting did.