The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The IMF Horse Race

May 24, 2011

The Western powers are in a rush to quickly confirm Christine Lagarde as the next MD, but there are some very good alternative choices outside of Europe who should be carefully considered. It may also be in the interest of the institution to at least appear more inclusive to the non-European parts of the world.  Here is a very rushed list of candidates whom I think would be viable in the eyes of the major stakeholders at the Fund (although each one has some flaws):

1. Tharman Shanmugaratnam: I remember several years ago attending this Singaporean MP’s meeting with local constituents. The meeting went late into the night as he and his volunteers attempted to sort out the various bureaucratic and some petty and not-so-petty social problems of the residents in the district.  I was surprised to see a senior official (at the time he was the Education Minister, he is currently the Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister) in what is essentially a one party dominated state spend so much personal time working with his constituents.  He is smart, tireless, and compassionate. Of course, the main drawback of Singaporean politicians is inexperience in dealing with strong public dissent.

2. Eisuke Sakakibara: Known as “Mr. Yen” and the man who coined the phrase “market fundamentalism” to describe neoliberal economic policies, Sakakibara is a well respected Japanese technocrat and intellectual who is not afraid to speak his mind. Sakakibara was Japan’s nomination for the MD position 11 years ago. His tenure might signal a shift away from economic neoliberalism at the Fund.

3. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai: The incorruptible former Finance Minister of Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai has extensive experience in the challenges faced when rebuilding shattered economies. In addition, he worked for a decade in the World Bank and understands the Bretton Woods institutions very well. His drawback is that he can be gruff and does not tolerate fools — which is partly why  he was forced out of office in Afghanistan.

4. Anne Osborn Kreuger: Admittedly, a Westerner, but still quite worthy of consideration. An American economics professor who was the First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF from 2001 to 2006 and a former chief economist at the World Bank. She made a concerted effort to address the pressing issue of sovereign debt restructuring in her time at the IMF.

5. Montek Singh Ahluwalia: A whip smart economist who headed the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office. He was also part of the team of economists, along with Manmohan Singh, who helped to engineer India’s liberalization policies in the nineties. Montek has said he is not putting his name forward for the position, but I think he could be talked into it. He is a figure who is accustomed to controversy, but at the very least his work at the IEO would make him aware of the many failures of the IMF in recent decades.

I’d be interested to hear other names from my fellow Ducks and our readers…

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia