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The Importance of Being Boring

From Project Syndicate by Simon Johnson:

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.

In the realm of international economics, being perceived as boring confers power to the extent that it allows major decisions to be made without a great deal of external scrutiny. From 1918 to 1939, international economic cooperation was hard to come by – in large part because all of the attempted deals were put together at high-profile international conferences. Following the creation of the IMF in 1944, many of the same decisions became routine, a lot less interesting, and much easier to implement.

The IMF rarely makes front-page headlines in the United States or other big countries, except when there is a racy personal dimension. The last time that many read a news story about the Fund may have been when then-Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn was forced out in May 2011, following accusations that he sexually assaulted an employee in a New York hotel.

Since then, his successor, Christine Lagarde, has helped to restore the Fund’s reputation – and to return coverage of its programs and activities to newspapers’ dry and unemotional business sections. (When I worked at the IMF in the 2000’s, page-three coverage of our events by leading newspapers was typically viewed as preferable to top billing.)

Of course, in countries receiving assistance – such as Greece in the last few years – the IMF excites great passion. But in the halls of the US Congress, few people pay any attention.


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