Wednesday, August 30, 2006

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You try changing the distribution of power in the IMF!!

Steven Weisman has a story in today's New York Times on U.S. efforts to rejigger the governance of the International Monetary Fund:

In an effort to gain Chinese cooperation on international economic issues, the Bush administration is pushing for China and other developing nations to get more power in the global institution that has played a central role in easing myriad financial crises since the end of World War II.

But the American-led effort to increase influence at the International Monetary Fund for China — and for South Korea, Turkey and Mexico, as well — is being resisted by several countries in Europe, which would lose power to those who would be gaining it....

At the same time, the administration is urging China to take on a greater role in promoting an open global trading system by helping restart the aborted trade talks sponsored by the World Trade Organization....

China is a particular focus of American interests because of the Bush administration’s uneasy relationship with the Beijing government and its desire for China to become a “stakeholder” in the international system, as American officials put it....

Critics of the Bush administration in Congress are calling on it to rebuff China’s demand for more power at the I.M.F. until Beijing revalues its currency in relation to the dollar.

But Mr. Adams and other American officials say that rather than limit China’s influence at the I.M.F., they want to increase its role there and make the lending institution a more aggressive monitor of currency manipulation by member nations.

“I would argue that by re-engineering the I.M.F. and giving China a bigger voice,” Mr. Adams said, “China will have a greater sense of responsibility for the institution’s mission.”

The initial proposed increases for China, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico in voting weight and quotas — which entitle members to more borrowing in emergencies — is viewed by Washington as a “down payment” for future changes increasing the power of many other countries, including oil-producing nations....

The American approach on the I.M.F. is seen as somewhat similar to the kind of changes officials want at the United Nations Security Council, where veto power is retained by the club of victors in World War II that are permanent members of the Council: the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France. Washington wants to expand the permanent membership to include Japan and at least one major developing country.

Voting at the I.M.F. is determined in part by a quota system that calculates how much a country must contribute to the fund and how much it can borrow in emergencies. The United States has 30 percent of the world economy but only a 17 percent share of the quota system....

[M]any recipients of the 1990’s bailouts are now sitting on large reserves that can be used to help other countries in the future. The American approach is to enlist these countries in maintaining an international system rather than having them go their own way.

There are a lot of interesting theoretical and policy debates wrapped up in this story:
1) Is it possible to smoothly reconfigure the distribution of power in an international governmental oganization (IGO)? Recent efforts to do so in the U.N. Security Council have borne little fruit -- because the losers from such a change will use their institutional prerogatives to resist such changes.

2) In terms of the distribution of interests, the U.S. is generally better off with European countries wielding disproportionate amounts of power in IGOs. The gamble here seems to be that by offering more influence to China and other advanced developing countries, there will be no radical break with the current rules of the game. Is this a belated example of John Ikenberry's "binding" strategy?

3) In terms of global governance, there is a contradiction at the heart of the EU's attempts to forge a common foreign and security policy. The more cohesive the EU looks, the greater its perceived power -- butpart of that power lies in the fact that EU countries hold individual votes in a lot of IGOs. If a common foreign policy comes to fruition, at what point should the EU be given a single vote rather than the 25 votes the members currently possess?

4) What will the content of the IMF's policies look like if China and other developing countries acquire greater sway?

5) Will the tacit grand bargain between the U.S. and China -- China acquiring greater influence within IGOs, China modifying its economic policies to assuage American concerns -- actually take place? 6) If I had told you five years ago that Weisman would write the following sentence:

But because the I.M.F. has not recently had a major crisis, some economists joke that with little to do, board members have the luxury of squabbling among themselves for power over an organization with an ill-defined mission.
would you have believed me?

posted by Dan on 08.30.06 at 08:50 AM


The whole quibble over IMF quotas is chump change compared to the big money picture of debtor (USA) and creditor (China). No one has a clue how the trade and capital flow imbalances will play out. The gray-boom bulge in US deficits, coupled with China's credit growth bubble, present some precarious dilemmas.

posted by: jkoch on 08.30.06 at 08:50 AM [permalink]

I know it is not related, but dan, you may want to post about this (considering you posted about his arrest):

Ramin Jahanbegloo, a leading Iranian intellectual arrested four months ago on spying charges has been freed, Iranian news agencies say.
also, something is not working about your hizbullah thread below. posts do not appear.

posted by: Joe m on 08.30.06 at 08:50 AM [permalink]

I am writing from Singapore, the host of the next IMF and World Bank meeting in Sep. While the whole Singapore is beign spursed up for this event, with developing countries accumulating huge amount of International reserves, I am wondering the relevance of the brenton-woods we really need these institutions?

posted by: Aruna urs on 08.30.06 at 08:50 AM [permalink]

Re: EU and multiple versus single votes on IGOs, let's reverse the process: would the US be more powerful if it was represented on IGOs as a multiplicity of individual states? I'd suggest no.

posted by: Simstim on 08.30.06 at 08:50 AM [permalink]

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