Who In The World Should Run The IMF?

May 19, 2011
Originally published on May 20, 2011 3:26 am

With Dominique Strauss-Kahn out of the picture, the job of heading the International Monetary Fund has temporarily fallen to his No. 2 man — an American named John Lipsky.

And so it was that Lipsky found himself giving a speech in Washington on Thursday that was originally supposed to be delivered by the departed Frenchman.

"I deeply regret the circumstances that have made it necessary for me to substitute for Dominique Strauss-Kahn," he said, during the speech. Strauss-Kahn is accused of trying to rape a maid at a Manhattan hotel.

Lipsky said IMF officials were already meeting to discuss a replacement for Strauss-Kahn and would act quickly. The selection process is complicated and the job has always gone to a European. And officials from across the continent insisted today it was important to maintain that tradition.

"I'm convinced that Europe is the way to go as far as we are concerned," said Christine Lagarde, French finance minister. "And any candidacy should have European support, whatever it is."

Why Europe?

Lagarde may be especially wedded to the idea of a European candidate because she herself is widely considered the Continent's first choice to lead the IMF.

Europeans argue that the job ought to go to one of their own because the IMF is so closely involved with the Continent's debt crisis. It's an argument that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Simon Johnson — former chief economist at the IMF — calls completely bogus.

"When Argentina had its crisis, nobody suggested that an Argentine should run the fund. When Russia had its crisis, nobody thought a Russian should run the fund," he says."In fact, you would rather have someone from another part of the world that doesn't have any potential conflict of interest."

Emerging Markets Want The Top Role

The idea that the job should go to a European is also generating plenty of opposition from emerging nations like Brazil, China and Thailand. They say the West no longer dominates the global economy the way it once did — and allowing Europe to dominate the fund no longer reflects reality. Turkey has a candidate. Russia is pushing a central banker from Kazakhstan.

"These countries have waited long and patiently to have one of their own lead the IMF," Johnson says. "It's a very powerful position with a great deal of discretion, particularly during economic crises such as the one we're having right now in parts of the world."

By itself Europe lacks the votes to get its own candidate named to the job, and it would almost certainly need the support of the United States to prevail. But U.S. officials, so far at least, aren't backing any particular candidate — and so the question of who will succeed Strauss-Kahn remains an open one.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's resignation yesterday leaves the IMF without a leader at a time when it's facing enormous challenges. The agency has been deeply embroiled in the effort to resolve the European debt crisis. So today, world leaders scramble to find a successor.

And NPR's Jim Zarroli reports that there was considerable disagreement about where the next IMF head should come from.

JIM ZARROLI: With Dominique Strauss-Kahn out of the picture, the job of heading the IMF has temporarily fallen to his number two man, an American named John Lipsky.

And so it was that Lipsky found himself giving a speech in Washington today that was originally supposed to be delivered by the departed Frenchman.

Mr. JOHN LIPSKY (First Deputy Managing Director, IMF): Of course, I deeply regret the circumstances that have made it necessary for me to substitute for Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

ZARROLI: Lipsky said IMF officials were already meeting to discuss a replacement for Strauss-Kahn and would act quickly. The selection process is complicated, and the job has always gone to a European. And officials from across the continent insisted today that it was important to maintain that tradition.

Here was French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Ms. CHRISTINE LAGARDE (Finance and Economy Minister, France): I'm convinced that Europe is the way to go as far as we are concerned, and any candidacy should have European support, whatever it is.

ZARROLI: Lagarde may be especially wedded to the idea of a European candidate because she herself is widely considered the continent's first choice.

Europeans argue that the job ought to go to a European like Lagarde because the IMF is so closely involved with the continent's debt crisis. It's an argument that MIT's Simon Johnson, the former chief economist at the IMF, calls completely bogus.

Dr. SIMON JOHNSON (MIT Sloan School of Management): When Argentina had its crisis, nobody suggested an Argentine should run the fund. When Russia had its crisis, nobody thought a Russian should run the fund. In fact, you would rather have somebody from another part of the world who doesn't have any kind of potential conflict of interest.

ZARROLI: The idea that the job should go to a European is also generating opposition from emerging nations like Brazil, China and Thailand. They say the West no longer dominates the global economy the way it once did, and allowing Europe to dominate the fund no longer reflects reality. Turkey has a candidate. Russia is pushing a central banker from Kazakhstan.

Again, Simon Johnson.

Dr. JOHNSON: These countries have waited long and patiently for the opportunity to have one of their own lead the IMF. And it's a very important, powerful position with a great deal of discretion, particularly during economic crises such as the one we're having right now in various parts of the world.

ZARROLI: By itself, Europe lacks the votes to get its own candidate named to the job, and it would almost certainly need the support of the United States to prevail. But U.S. officials, so far at least, aren't backing any particular candidate, and so the question of who will succeed Strauss-Kahn remains an open one.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.