The International Monetary Fund is an immensely useful organization, able to deliver substantial amounts of financial and technical assistance at short notice to almost any place in the world. It also has the great advantage of almost always being perceived as incredibly boring.
Unfortunately for the IMF, it now needs a slightly higher public profile to convince the US Congress to agree to some important reforms. The Ukrainian crisis may prove helpful, though that appears less likely now – which may be a good thing to the extent that one unintended consequence could be a loan to Ukraine that is larger than it really needs.
The news from Europe, particularly from within the euro zone, seems all bad.
Interest rates on Italian government debt continue to rise. Attempts to put together a “rescue package” at the pan-European level repeatedly fall behind events. And the lack of leadership from Germany and France is palpable – where is the vision or the clarity of thought we would have had from Charles de Gaulle or Konrad Adenauer?
As the U.S. and Europe teeter on the edge of a devastating double-dip recession, India’s economic boom—once considered a bright spot in an otherwise bleak global financial landscape—is also showing signs of weakness.
The International Monetary Fund recently cut its growth projection for India, warning that the country was perilously close to double-digit inflation. (In the past fiscal year, India’s economy grew 8.5%; before the financial crisis, its growth exceeded 9% for three straight years.) The IMF cited “a drag from renewed global uncertainty” as the main reason for the revision, but that is letting India off easy.
The summer debate that has dominated Washington seems straightforward. Under what conditions should the U.S. government be allowed to borrow more money? The numbers that have been bandied about focus on reducing the cumulative deficit projection over the next 10 years, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office.
But there is a serious drawback to this measure because it ignores what will probably prove to be the U.S.’s single largest fiscal problem over the next decade: The lack of adequate capital buffers at banks.
Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank until October, last week floated two proposals aimed at dealing with Greece and related eurozone public-debt problems.
The first idea would allow European Union authorities to override the policy decisions of member governments that can’t come up with sustainable budgets, implying the creation of an external control board for the likes of Greece. This approach has been used in the past for very weak countries (as well as for the cities of New York andWashington in recent decades). In Europe today, it would have no political legitimacy and would be completely unworkable — imagine the street protests it would spark.