Funny how such consideration never seemed to come up when Asia and Latin America had their own financial crises in the 1990s. Somehow, it didn’t much matter then that the IMF was run by a Frenchman or a German lacking extensive political contacts in those regions. Now, of course, such familiarity is deemed essential: “The new IMF chief will deal with mostly European issues for most of his or her first term,” Munchau writes, and “will have to bang heads together in meetings of European finance ministers, and will have to converse effectively with some notoriously difficult heads of government and state.”
So from this Eurocentric perspective, Agustin Carstens, the governor of Mexico’s central bank and formerly a top IMF official, and Kemal Dervis, Turkey’s respected former finance minister, simply lack the intellectual or political wherewithal to strike a deal with Greek or Portuguese colleagues, or cannot hope to win the respect of German or French policymakers.
Another unwarranted assumption is that European politicians will put up greater resistance than their Asian and Latin American counterparts did to the unpopular economic measures that come with any IMF bailout — and that only a fellow European can make them see the light. So is the tacit implication that Europeans deserve gentler treatment than what the IMF proffered to the governments of South Korea and Brazil when they needed bailouts.
In fact, Europe can do no better than having as the IMF chief one of the many highly trained and deeply experienced economic players from a developing country that has already successfully managed a crisis. India, Brazil and South Africa have a deep bench of talent that can help Europe navigate its problems. Furthermore, even though Europe is experiencing the crisis du jour, the new IMF chief will have to deal with economic troubles that may erupt in some of the developing countries that are now booming.
And then there is the small detail that while Europe’s weight in the global economy is rapidly shrinking, that of countries such as China, India and Brazil is expanding ever faster. Why should rising economic powers be kept out of the decision-making positions of the world’s main financial institutions?
The argument that the next head of the IMF must hail from a predetermined region or nation is fallacious, because it can be made in favor of virtually any region. Instead, the position should be open to any qualified candidate from anywhere in the world — and the selection process must be inclusive, transparent and based on no other considerations than the candidate’s professional merits, experience and integrity.
It would be nice, too, if the candidates were required to make a strong commitment to actually finish their five-year terms in the IMF’s top slot. The past three heads of the IMF (all Western Europeans, of course) resigned before completing their terms.
Moises Naim, a former executive director of the World Bank, is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and chief international columnist for Spain’s El Pais.