IMF As Grim Reaper of Austerity?
As I wrote last June:
When the International Monetary Fund or World Bank offer to lend money to a struggling third-world country (or “emerging market”), they demand “austerity measures“.
As Wikipedia describes it:
In economics, austerity is when a national government reduces its spending in order to pay back creditors. Austerity is usually required when a government’s fiscal deficit spending is felt to be unsustainable.
Development projects, welfare programs and other social spending are common areas of spending for cuts. In many countries, austerity measures have been associated with short-term standard of living declines until economic conditions improved once fiscal balance was achieved (such as in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher, Canada under Jean Chrétien, and Spain under González).
Private banks, or institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), may require that a country pursues an ‘austerity policy’ if it wants to re-finance loans that are about to come due. The government may be asked to stop issuing subsidies or to otherwise reduce public spending. When the IMF requires such a policy, the terms are known as ‘IMF conditionalities’.
Wikipedia goes on to point out:
Austerity programs are frequently controversial, as they impact the poorest segments of the population and often lead to a wider separation between the rich and poor. In many situations, austerity programs are imposed on countries that were previously under dictatorial regimes, leading to criticism that populations are forced to repay the debts of their oppressors.
What Does This Have to Do With the First World?
Since the IMF and World Bank lend to third world countries, you may reasonably assume that this has nothing to do with “first world” countries like the US and UK.
But England’s economy is in dire straight, and rumors have abounded that the UK might have to rely on a loan from the IMF.
And as former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker said :
People seem to think the [American] government has money. The government doesn’t have any money.
Indeed, the IMF has already performed a complete audit of the whole US financial system, something which they have only previously done to broke third world nations.
Al Martin – former contributor to the Presidential Council of Economic Advisors and retired naval intelligence officer – observed in an April 2005 newsletter that the ratio of total U.S. debt to gross domestic product (GDP) rose from 78 percent in 2000 to 308 percent in April 2005. The International Monetary Fund considers a nation-state with a total debt-to-GDP ratio of 200 percent or more to be a “de-constructed Third World nation-state.”
What “de-constructed” actually means is that a political regime in that country, or series of political regimes, have, through a long period of fraud, abuse, graft, corruption and mismanagement, effectively collapsed the economy of that country.
The IMF is – in fact – now saying that the U.S. must live more austerely.
As the Washington Post noted Saturday:
In the lingo of the International Monetary Fund, the future of the world hinges on “rebalancing and consolidation,” antiseptic words that would not seem to raise a fuss.
But the translation is a bit ruder, something on the order of: “Suck it up. The party’s over.”
To keep the global economy on track, people in the United States and the rest of the developed world need to work longer before retiring, pay higher taxes and expect less from government. And the cheap imports lining the shelves of mega-chains such as Wal-Mart and Target? They need to be more expensive.
That’s the practical meaning of a series of policy papers and statements issued in recent days by IMF officials, who have a long history of stabilizing economies and solving global financial problems, as they plot a course to keep the world economy growing and reduce the risk of another “great recession.”
It means a pretty serious reworking of expectations in the developed world: changes in labor rules, product prices, currency values and even the social contract between governments and an aging citizenry.
“It is not that living standards will lower, but they will not increase as fast as they have been,” said Domenico Lombardi, a former IMF executive director. The ideas being discussed by world leaders “are coded words,” he said. “They don’t like words like ‘imposing higher taxes’ and ‘cutting spending.’ “
The level of the correction needed is large, perhaps 10 percent of gross domestic product. In the United States, that would amount to roughly $1.4 trillion annually, to be cut from government programs or raised through new taxes.
Dean Baker notes:
Back in the 90s the IMF came to be known as the “Typhoid Mary” of emerging markets as its policy prescriptions led to sharp economic downturns in one country after another.
The “grim reaper” might be a better analogy.
IMF As World’s Central Bank?
Not only is the IMF treating America like another failed state, but the IMF may – in some ways – replace the U.S.
As I pointed out last May, the IMF may be taking over world’s financial regulator:
The Group of 20 countries have made the [IMF] the linchpin in their efforts to combat the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression
The Washington Post notes:
Global financial chiefs agreed yesterday to reshape the International Monetary Fund, moving to broaden its mission …
The IMF, which in recent years had become largely an advisory body to nations in crisis, will now be charged with aggressive monitoring of the global economy. Underscoring that role, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said yesterday that Washington had consented to a rigorous IMF review of the U.S. financial system for the first time since the fund was created at the end of World War II.
And some say that the IMF will become the world’s central bank.
According to Jim Rickards – director of market intelligence for Omnis – the purpose of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh on September 24 was as follows:
The IMF is being sort of anointed as a global central bank.
Rickards also said that the plan is for the IMF to issue SDRs as a global reserve currency to replace the dollar, and then America will gradually depreciate the dollar to reduce the size of its enormous debt:
However, the Wall Street Journal argued in October that – while the IMF would like to be the world’s central bank – the G20 is relegating it to a lesser role:
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn is using the IMF’s annual meeting here to campaign for turning the fund into a kind of global central bank with at least $1 trillion for lending developing nations in a crisis.
But a very different reality is taking shape: The IMF is essentially being turned into the staff of the Group of 20, an organization of industrialized and developing nations that doesn’t have a headquarters, staff or rules for membership. With the leaders of the G-20 effectively functioning as the board of directors of the global economy, they need the IMF’s help to carry out their role.
Ellen Brown argues that the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has been, and will continue to be, the real power behind the throne, even though the IMF seems to be gaining power.
I don’t know who is right. But it does seem like America is losing its imperial status, and that global institutions such as the IMF, G20 and BIS are filling the void.