Stan Fischer makes his bid for the IMF's top job

  • 12 June 2011
  • From the section Business
  • comments

If the staff of the IMF could vote for their next managing director, Stan Fischer would win by a mile.

But the 2,400 people who work for this global financial institution don't get any say in the matter.

As a result, his last minute candidacy will strike many as quixotic. But even Don Quixote won the occasional battle, and for Fischer this is a fight worth fighting.

The arguments against him are many - as I discussed on May 27. He is 67, which means he is technically ineligible for the job on the Fund's own internal rules.

The Board could waive this age restriction, but I'm told they would need to table a special vote to do so. If that vote passed, they would then theoretically need to re-open the application process, to allow other, older candidates to submit their application who might previously have been put off. This is an important obstacle, but a technical one.

The much larger problems are political. For starters, he has been working as the central bank chief of Israel for six years, which is a turn off - to put it mildly - for many countries, and not only the Arab states.

Fischer has been assiduously apolitical during his time in Israel - he is a technocrat to his core. At least one of Israel's key Arab neighbours is said to have no problem with him running the IMF. But it's going to be very hard for him to neutralise the Israel factor.

Most important are the problems I highlighted in that earlier post in May. To put it bluntly, neither the US nor the Europeans are likely to support him, and without their support the job is lost.

America doesn't want him to get the top job because he is, technically, one of their own: he has dual US and Israeli citizenship.

If he ran the IMF, the US would lose two jobs in the international financial institutions for the price of one, because they would have to give up both the World Bank Presidency and the number two slot at the Fund.

That is a high price to pay for someone who is well liked in Washington but has never served any US government.

So, you might think, it's all hopeless. Why bother? The reason is that Stan Fischer has nothing too lose, and the battle is indeed a worthy one.

He would be an excellent managing director of the Fund. In an ideal world, that would be reason enough for him to apply.

But if there is a very small chance of success it comes from the fact that this is not an ideal world at all. It is a world that has been rigged, once again, by the Europeans and Americans, at a time when, arguably, there are good reasons for the Fund to be run by a non-European.

The moment for a large-scale revolt against another US-European stitch-up has probably passed. And even if it has not, Stan Fischer's baggage makes him an imperfect rebel leader, to say the least.

But with so much genuine bad feeling around about the way this has all been handled, it has to be worth a shot.