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|The Roles Of Imf by logic101: 1:11pm On Jan 13, 2012|
The I M F and the World Bank were originally set up in 1944 at a conference between the Allied forces (essentially the US and Britain), which worked out the shape of postwar international economic governance. This conference was held in the New Hampshire resort of Bretton Woods, so these agencies are sometimes collectively called the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs). The I M F was set up to lend money to countries in balance of payments crises so that they can reduce their balance of payments deficits without having to resort to deflation. The World Bank was set up to help the reconstruction of war-torn countries in Europe and the economic development of the post-colonial societies that were about to emerge—which is why it is officially called the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This was supposed to be done by financing projects in infrastructure development (e.g., roads, bridges, dams).
Following the Third World debt crisis of 1982, the roles of both the I M F and the World Bank changed dramatically. They started to exert a much stronger pol- icy influence on developing countries through their joint operation of so-called structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). These programmes covered a much wider range of policies than what the Bretton Woods Institutions had originally been mandated to do. The BWIs now got deeply involved in virtually all areas of economic policy in the developing world. They branched out into areas like government budgets, industrial regulation, agricultural pricing, labour market regulation, privatization and so on. In the 1990s, there was a further advance in this ‘mission creep’ as they started attaching so-called governance conditionali- ties to their loans. These involved intervention in hitherto unthinkable areas, like democracy, government decentralization, central bank independence and corporate governance.
This mission creep raises a serious issue. The World Bank and the I M F initially started with rather limited mandates. Subsequently, they argued that they have to intervene in new areas outside their original mandates, as they, too, affect economic performance, a failure in which has driven countries to borrow money from them. However, on this reasoning, there is no area of our life in which the BWIs cannot intervene. Everything that goes on in a country has implications for its economic performance. By this logic, the I M F and the World Bank should be able to impose conditionalities on everything from fertility decisions, ethnic integration and gender equality, to cultural values.
In the beginning, the I M F only imposed conditions closely related to the borrower country’s management of its balance of payments, such as currency devaluation. But then it started putting conditions on government budgets on the grounds that budget deficits are a key cause of balance of payments problems. This led to the imposition of conditions like the privatization of state-owned enterprises, because it was argued that the losses made by those enterprises were an important source of budget deficits in many developing countries. Once such an extension of logic began, there was no stopping. Since everything is related to everything else, anything could be a condition
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