Before the Euro crisis the IMF was the model of financial rectitude. It lent sensible sums of money to distressed countries, imposing strict requirements for change on them to ensure it would be repaid and to help the country back onto the path of solvency and growth. It usually combined a fiscal squeeze, recommending lower deficits and lower public spending, with a monetary expansion, allowing the private sector to grow. Devaluing the currency was usually part of the remedy, to divert more work into exports and to cut the volume of imports.
That IMF had its critics. Some thought the medicine too acerbic. Some wanted the IMF to lend more on more generous terms. The IMF mainly lent to poorer countries, and was often part of a pressure by the world community to encourage healthy financial discipline by the borrowers.
All this has been stood on its head. The IMF now seems to be primarily a prop for the Euro and for the wider EU area of influence. It is amazing that three quarters of all the IMF’s current lending is to just four European countries. Three are Euro members, Portugal, Greece and Ireland. The fourth is war torn Ukraine. These countries remain amongst the world’s richer countries despite the damage the Euro and in the case of the Ukraine civil war has inflicted.
What is worse few think Greece can repay all its debts, including the IMF loans. There are question marks over how the Ukraine is going to manage, all the time civil war destroys economic activity, kills people and reduces productive assets to rubble.
The new IMF has allowed itself to be used as a prop and source of finance for the ailing Euro project and for the unsuccessful foreign policy of the EU. The IMF has swung from arguably being too tough on poor countries in need of help, to being too lenient on richer countries locked into a foolish monetary union which is damaging their output and jobs. How can the IMF defend its actions over Greece, as the extra loans have become part of the problem. Some in the Greek government do not even recognise the legality of many of Greece’s borrowings, let alone the wisdom of making the advances and the feasibility of repaying them.
I raised at the time of their first loans to Euro countries the question how could a traditional IMF programme work for a Euro member, when they could not demand looser money within a particular Euro state, and they could not encourage a devaluation of that state’s currency against the German currency because they shared the same money. Perhaps with the encouragement of the IMF the whole Euro zone is now following a looser money policy and devaluing its currency, but the great imbalances between the richer and poorer countries within the zone remains as they cannot sort that out by currency adjustments.
The IMF has become the Irresponsible Money Fund. It needs to be aware that many in the developing world will think this deliberate skew of IMF funds to the richer advanced countries is unjustified. Many IMF shareholder states will be even angrier if it turns out that some of the excessive sums advanced will never be paid back. The IMF owes us an explanation of how Ukraine will be stabilised and turned into a fast growing productive economy again. Above all we need to hear from the IMF how they think Greece can repay all her debts and enjoy proper economic growth, to try at least to recapture the 25% of output and incomes they have lost so far since 2007.
IMF Lending June 2015 in SDRs
World total 60.8bn
The UK’s quota or IMF share is 4.51%. The UK’s share in the ECB where the losses on Greece could be much larger than the IMF ones is only 0.7% as we are not a Euro member. The main losses will fall to Germany, France and Italy, the largest members and shareholders in the ECB.