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IMF boss kicks butt

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Paul Mason | 00:53 UK time, Friday, 17 April 2009

The IMF has released parts 3 and 4 of its upcoming World Economic Outlook, while we have to wait for part 1 and 2.

Presumably, as with The Godfather, the later instalments are the better and so they have punted them now into the pdf-osphere to try and, once again, bounce the world's finance ministers at the IMF Spring Meeting to commit to sustained fiscal stimulus.

Why do they think it's needed? Well the rationale is summed up in the opening paragraph of Chapter 3, which I will summarise in bullet point form in non-financial English.

1. Recessions caused by financial crisis are unusually severe and long
2. Globally synchronised recessions are long and deep and the recoveries weak
3. Interest rate cuts and printing money can help but are limited when the main problem is financial
4. By contrast fiscal stimulus is "particularly effective"
5. However strike point 4 above if countries are already heavily indebted (NB Gordon Brown)
6. Therefore the current recession is likely to be "unusually long and severe and the recovery sluggish".

Now the politics. What Dominique Strauss-Kahn is trying to do here is bounce the US government, and one or two others, into sorting the banks out. On Newsnight tonight he was clear that the US banking bailout is not effective and it's clear the IMF is trying to lean on the US Treasury and Fed to achieve some kind of closure (watch the interview here).

Here in the USA, (I have been travelling around Indiana in an RV), the fiscal stimulus is facing a growing backlash, even from people who've benefited from it. The "tax tea parties" though small have been heavily covered by Fox News - and I mean like on the scale of a Cat 6 Hurricane. Many conservative Americans have the gut feeling that Obama's fiscal stimulus will impose a tax burden on their kids that will change America forever.

Strauss-Kahn took a coded sideswipe at the tax protesters, the Republicans and by implication the British Conservatives in his Newsnight interview: opposition parties he said are making hay out of the stimulus - but it happens. Under his leadership the IMF is turning out to be strangely dirigiste, doom-laden and prepared to kick the butt of sovereign governments and opposition politicians behind the scenes.

One thing I think we can predict with certainty is that, when the IMF publishes its growth projections next week, they will be even lower than the already thrice downgraded figures. If, as DS-K said, we're looking at a mid-2010 recovery, 2009 is looking pretty grim, and in jobs and closures and output we've not seen nearly the bottom yet.


  • Comment number 1.

    We all know the crisis won't be resolved until the overindebtedness is paid down or written off. This will take years until the debt levels reach a level where households and businesses feel comfortable. Trying to inflate the debts away won't work as we are suffering from high unemployment, which means wages won't keep pace with inflation.

    For those debts that will need to be written off there are only 3 parties who can bear the cost of the write down: (i) The lender (ii) The taxpayer or (iii) Private investors (which includes foreign investors).

    Private investors don't want to pay for the write off, the lenders don't have enough liquidity to pay for the write off, which only leaves the taxpayer as the one to get lumbered with the losses......

    Once the crisis has been stabilised, we then have to think about how to return to growth. Sustainable growth will not happen unless new efficiencies lead to an increase in productivity. Green technology seems the obvious candidate.

    The marginal productivity of debt is currently negative. So no use trying to borrow your way out of the recession, as borrowing won't lead to greater productivity.

  • Comment number 2.


    There was a link posted yesterday from the former chief economist at the IMF.

    As he implies himself he has seen poorly goverened states time and time again get into trouble.

    The underlying mistake is always the same a degree of complicity between a very privelidged elite, an unwritten arrangement between politics and industry or the military or, in our case largely finance.

    The underlying solution is always the same, it is to break that damaging which allows money to be made via policy changes (light regulation) in our case.

    That link has not been broken yet, the banks have not been nationalised, they have been bailed out using taxpayers money yet on the whole kept their independence and influence.

    The ruling elite political / financial deal is still trying to tell us we should trust them to get us out of this. It even looks like they have printed enough money and borrowed more such that to give the appearance of 'something working'.

    It can not work all it has done is bought the ruling elite some time, a brief resbite before mass unemployment and the realisation of the tax hikes required kicks in.

    I have been banging on about this for ages, it is nice to know that even though I ( and many like me on these blogs) are not economists we are calling this right backed up by someone who would surely know.

    It is no wonder government, not content with arresting opposition MP's and supressing minutes of cabinet meetings ordered to be released by a judge that they are now complaining about 'irresponsible bloggers'

    Is anybody else awake out there? Especially the media.

    see link below for the IMF's former cheif economists view.

    He can say this bacause he has left and is no longer in the business of saving economies From the interview with the current head of IMF yesterday on newsnight I would say he believes this too, he just can not say it because he is trying to engage with them to deal with it.

    Wish the IMF luck, we can try to do our part too by raising public awarness of what is really going on here.


  • Comment number 3.

    It's now pretty clear that even the Government has abandoned the idea of any further fiscal stimulus.

    The mood music has changed, since Mervyn King's announcement that they were "maxed out". Since then there has been a steady stream of trivial and/or speculative "good news" stories about possible green shoots - and now mutterings about an austerity budget.


    It's pretty clear that the UK is now balancing on a knife edge. The markets are asking "how is all this borrowing going to be paid for without depressing the economy?" If that is not answered then sooner or later there will be a further run on the pound, inflation will start to creep up even further - and the Bank will have to look at interest rate rises.

    At which point the whole house of cards will fall flat.

    So: are we going to see renewed economic growth, burgeoning tax revenues and a paying down of debt?

  • Comment number 4.

    Fascinating stuff PM, good to see some experts (you & the writers of the IMF report) doing their job and providing useful info for navigating the future. A lot of commentators seem intent on obfuscating the whole picture...

    Thank again.

  • Comment number 5.

    When are the current government going to realise that they need to cut their spending instead of trying to borrow their way out of trouble?

    There are plenty of private individuals reducing their debts having realised that the party has come to an end and now it's time to pay the price. There is so much the government could cut yet they show few signs of even thinking about it. They could start with scrapping Trident and the like. What a complete waste of money that is. They could stop wasting billons on the Olympics; various quangos; useless advisors; expensive IT systems; ID cards and databases....the list goes on and on.

    Also (and I've been banging on about this for ages) they could SIMPLIFY the tax and benefits systems and stop wasting huge amounts on costly administrative functions.

    Imagine it: one or two tax levels and a personal allowance plus a purchase tax of VAT. Get rid of all the other taxes and tax/rebates/credits/allowances including ridiculous ones like winter fuel allowance. Just let people keep more of their own money and let them spend it on what they need instead of taking it from them and making them claim it back with all the beauracracy and frustration this causes.

  • Comment number 6.

    These whole stories about bailout, stimulus, borrowing and IMF this and that are convoluted ideas which to non-economists makes no real sense but confusion, confusion. And are all elite’s ideologies, perhaps happening as glitches or purposefully just to perpetuate their ever secreted agenda.

    But whatever it is, the recent incident of the G-20 Summit in London of an unprecedented protestation by a mammoth crowd should serve as a sign/warning to global players and elites that we have a global issue that SHOULD NOT be treated with some kind of Machiavellian or Chauvinistic tendencies. Because this is a case of what goes round comes around.

    Thanks to bloggers who have contributed very SOUND comments so far and many thanks to you Paul Mason!

    Whichever approach the kingpins chooses; the question should be whether it is fair or whether it displaced equity? The days where Peter could be robbed to pay Paul are over. What we need now is a true global solution devoid of imperialism, sentiment and any form discrimination. Our world have suffered so much violence, deceits, wars, and innocent souls gone with it thus, the repercussion of the atrocities of world leaders gone past is staring on our faces.

    The solutions therefore are that of collaboration, a truly all-embracing -summit and not just the G-20; after all our elites have failed us. Again, all need to be given fair hearing; our economists have to lend their earnest voices as well.

    Additionally, trade liberalization is key; also IMF and its financial planning gurus should come up with bailout strategies and stimulus packages devoid of the carrot – stick approach of lending that have led many into inescapable indebtedness; and now who is to blame for the gimmick they used in impoverishing the already deprived states? Well our best bet is to burry the hack, show genuine and indiscrimination concern for everybody, that way a global solution to a global recession will surface naturally.

  • Comment number 7.


    "Is anybody else awake out there?"

    Being awake is no good when we live within the lie. And the showbiz media are an integral part of that lie.

    In 2009: Leadership is not skilled guidance. Politics is not competent management. Party MP's are not possessed of integrity and altruism. Democracy does not empower. Success equals wealth. Coexistance is only via trade. Conflict-resolution is war. Cleverness is mistaken for wisdom.

    Money and power are equivalent; politicians and fatcats are at the same trough. The rest are pawns in their games. Homo Sapiens isn't working - we were never designed to live this life. Money-angst is just a symptom.

  • Comment number 8.

    What are we paying the IMF so they can produce a report of the obvious? I could have written a report saying just that in one afternoon.

    This recession (slump?) is going to be long and nasty. The recovery will, in parts, be worse than the recession. We live in a time of deep instability. It is not going away.

    It is easy to criticise the ordinary people who don't fully understand the events going on around them. The predictable world which they thought they inhabited has been expropriated from them without warning and they are scared; very scared.

    Perhaps they are right to be scared. The US economy is still shrinking despite all the talk of green shoots. The UK economy is in my view on the upward stroke of the first V of the recession (slump?) and will go into reverse as soon as government tries to put the extraordinary debt it has run up into some sort of framework for repayment.

    To put it all into context the ordinary folk both here and across the Atlantic feel utterly betrayed. Most people did not experience the boom, most people did not run up debts, so why is it that they are now expected to bail out the turbo-capitalists and their political friends?

    That is my question. Why should I be bothered with a bunch of people who called me a loser when it was all going so well for them? Now the boots supposedly on the other foot when am I going to be allowed to do some kicking? Or is it one rule for some and another rule for the others. No wonder people are getting angry. It goes with the fear.

  • Comment number 9.

    #7 barriesingleton

    'cleverness is mistaken for wisdom'

    That lies at the root of it, previously 'cleverness' was moderated by 'spirituality' in various forms.

    Wisdom is a fusion of both those aspects of existence.

    Most of reality as we experience it lies outside of mathematical models or dictionary or legal definitions of words and it is constantly changing.

    Analytical economists obviously refuse to acknowledge Godels 'incompleteness theorem'.

    That discovery along with Einsteins relativity and Bohrs Quantum mechanics should have been the clue for Homo-sapiens to 'move on' from absolutism...but there was too much money to be made it seems and increasingly a lack of spirituality to keep it in check.

    I am reminded again of my wife's reassurance in her thick Brazillian acent.

    ' the world is nice and beautiful, it is the people, they are crazy'

    The worls is definately worth preserving so that it can be appreciated, we now have the tools to do that but we are moving further away from that not closer to it.

    I just wish there was a way to defeat absolutism without the need for some kind of 'external' influence.

    It looks like they have pumped enough printed and borrowed money into the system to stabilise it for a short period but the fundamentals are still totally shot and it is only a year or 2 before they will re-emerge with nothing to hold them back. That is about as long as we have.

    I find you insight reassuring 'barriesingleton' I feel like I am shouting out into a vacuum most days.


  • Comment number 10.

    Whichever way you look at it, the media has a key and unique role in getting us though and out of this mess. But it is not yet acting in such a way. Will it ever though, is the question.

    We know we are living with a stream of public 'information' lies and that we are being governed by corruption. Change is needed. How to create it?

    The media (and I would have to put Newsnight right up there on this) still present us with Bill and Ben panels, 'balanced' across whichever distracting little tidbit is in the news that day, talking about issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with what people are actually concerned about, their priorities, or what they want done.

    The debates about:

    - what is really going on
    - what are the possibilities, including the very radical ones

    just do not take place in the media (BBC) Where else can they take place?

    Much more important are dead BBC 'personalities' after their lifetime of privilege?

    A program like Newsnight has the ability to bring such missing debates into homes. They can do it much more easily than people trying to get some nationally co-ordinated action, without the communication facilities and access to mass public that people in the BBC are privileged to have.

    But when people do get something together, you will be out there 'reporting' on it in some showbiz, entertainment level fashion, esepcially if there is a bit of violence or some other 'good visuals', showing, yes, you are really 'on the ball', and really 'out there with the people'.

    That is before switching to a studio Bill and Ben debate between overpaid, overpriviledged late middle aged men in suits. Safe. Conservative. And no doubt a reflection of the overrepresentation of private school BBC staff, which WE pay for.

    So its not just in politics that change is needed.

  • Comment number 11.

    Barrie, Jericoa: Over the last few weeks, more than once, my mind has returned to The Master and Margarita, a very funny (in parts) fantasy novel by the Kiev born Russian Mikhail Bulgakov. One of several major strands of the novel concerns the Devil and his henchmen visiting Soviet Moscow, where they create havoc by playing upon the greed of the inhabitants.

    The Muscovites are delighted to be showered with extravagant gifts, all of which prove illusory in the cold light of day. Many are left feeling foolish but wiser; others still pursue the "secret" of the imaginary wealth.

    Looking around at those in both high and low places, life seems to be imitating Art yet again.

  • Comment number 12.

    The IMF has long seen itself as the scourge of governments. Only it, and its very negative (and indeed punitive) packages for those who have failed, are to be taken seriously. It sees itself as the global establishment set in place to keep the rest of us in line. Despite its recent conversion to a perverted form of Keynesianism, it still seems to want an authoritarian form od liberalism.

    Unfortunately it should be central to the G20's work. Fortunately those governments in the G20, which it so despises, seem to be leading the wway to solutions despite its best efforts to sabotage them.

    Above all, though, it is by far the most pessimistic forecaster; at a time when real optimism is needed from our leaders ("We have nothing to fear but fear itself").

  • Comment number 13.


    Sounds like a good read, not one I have come across before, not that I read much nowadays. However I will give that one a go I think. Hopefully it will cheer me up!

    Its good for the human race to laugh at our own failings collectively, I am sure many 'choose' to be blind to the illusory nature of the 'wealth' on offer, those aspects of life have been fertile ground ever since plays came along I think.

    There is a point where it does go beyond a joke though, it could in the past, be percieved as all harmless fun, chasing illusory wealth being just a bit more scenery to take in during our short time here that did no real harm.

    That is all well and good but the world has changed and chasing illusory wealth on a global scale and with the technology we now have is no longer an interesting observation on human nature, it potentially now threatens the very existence of it if we are not careful.

    I think what they have done in the short term is probably ok in terms of financial measures taken, but it must be on the proviso that they do something much more radical and positive in the long term with the window they have bought.

    The trouble is inthe mainstrem nobody is even talking about what that may be let alone doing anything about it! They are too busy trying to re-capture the secret of the 'illusory wealth'.

    Im one to talk though, I just bought 2 Euromillins tickets for tonights draw £52 million Jackpot...C'mon mine..all mine..


  • Comment number 14.

    #14 Jericoa "Im one to talk though, I just bought 2 Euromillins tickets for tonights draw ?52 million Jackpot...C'mon mine..all mine..

    Damn - I forgot!:-)

    Some people say there's no point, because there is a much greater chance of "falling under a bus". My attitude is that, like it or not, you've got the ticket for falling under a bus anyway, so why not have the other too?

    Seriously though, what would one do with the money if one won? Squander it, or use it wisely, it would still enslave us. The real question is, how much would it corrupt our humanity?

    BTW, if in doubt go for the Misha Glenny translation of Bulgakov. I've read a couple of criticisms, but he is a masterful translator of anything Russian. Compared with others, he translates to beautiful flowing English: legato rather than staccato.

  • Comment number 15.


    I have followed the link Sasha and can now slip a reference into my next poem - like a J Gordon Brown smile. (Has Kirsty been to the JGB school of facial/farcical gesture? She seemed manic in the al fresco bit.)

    Love the de-facto, under-bus ticket theme.

    What I don't like about lotteries is winning the losings of others. (Buddha had something to say about winners and losers.)
    But as Jericoa has been so honest, and Sasha, by inference, also (is that possible?) I have to admit to Ernie Bond holding.

    I feel that absolute taboos are needed if decline is to be avoided. But having shed all our taboos, we perversely court and laud aberration. Not only is God Dead, but Mother Nature spending her time with a Toy Boy while severely depressed.

    On top of all that, Tony is rising to new heights and will soon come to rest on Mt Olympus. I calculate that will occur round about December 2012.

  • Comment number 16.


    I dont mind losing as a necesarry sacrifice to have a chance of winning. Surely that is a reflection of much of life?

    Not sure if I am with the Buddha on this one, honest and responsible 'gambling' or risk taking, treating it for what it is I don't really have a problem with it.

    When that equation becomes dishonest that is when I have a problem with it...enter stage left the investment bankers, ponzi scheme creators and those who give their horses a full bucket of water to drink just before a race to make sure they lose.

  • Comment number 17.

    I still think Newsnight isn't giving the the average person insight into how recent financial crisis decisions will hurt them. What cuts will be made? How will taxes be raised? Newsnight witters about day to day events – which is entertaining (like watching a car crash) but not informative. People are largely in the dark. Who's near the light switch?

    Today's FT leader – on the Chancellor's folly - reiterates how our leaders (current and aspiring) reamain hugely reluctant to discuss this stuff. Right now the Chancellor (aware that the Tories are happy to let him off this hook) is creating a speech with get out of jail phrases like “the provision for banking losses” which continues the obfuscation.

    But it is still possible for you to broadcast how taxes must rise and services be eroded by upcoming fiscal prudence – even though politicians wont want to. It IS possible to illustrate the importance of publishing genuine detailed plans to pay off the debt – and the downside for UK Ltd if chancellors decline to do his. The slope to IMF bail-outs is very slippery.

    Newsnight's economics coverage seems a bit parasitic or reactive – perhaps there is a gap between your territory and business affairs? Maybe you're allowing coverage to be sidetracked by events? You belong to the people so show some determination. Its like you need to be ahead of the politicians.. If not Newsnight then who?

  • Comment number 18.

    hey paul check out the rumours [not fleetwood mac]

    the squawk boxes are doing it too.

    if true might tank the bank shares? [and indices]

  • Comment number 19.


    I very much agree with that, it is like all the so called 'leading news' programmes are simply commenting on the government line.

    Noboddy is doing their own research into the fact and figures of exactly what the level of debt we are in means in real terms and a realistic schedule for paying it back and what that will mean for the long term unemployment rate and living standards as well.

    Labour wont look at it objectively, neither will the tories due to the election, and the lib dems wont be taken seriously no matter what they say.

    Where does that leave the public in terms of being shown the objective truth of it if programmes like newsnight are only prepared regurgitate and comment on the various party lines rather than doing the digging themsleves...scared of being accused of being too influencial in politics perhaps after the david kelly affair and having had your teeth pulled by Alaister Campbell?

    Where does that leave us then?

  • Comment number 20.

    18 re rumour

    for those who don't follow the markets this is still just a rumour. the kind the market sees a bit of. there are some very naughty people out there.

    it will be interesting to see what the official release says.

  • Comment number 21.


    given there seems to be a war in the usa over the principle of state bailouts etc there might be more of this kind of stuff.

    blogs eh? :)

  • Comment number 22.


    Krugman and James Galbraith have been arguing for some time that major US banks are close to insolvency.

    Now it seems that the truth is leaking into the public domain.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think a large part of the problem with the media today is the level of subservience they show to the government of the day and politicians in general.

    As someone alluded to above, the former chief economist to the IMF is stating that our problems are a direct result of the immoral stitching up of our economies by the financial and politicial elite.

    As Jericoa mentions above, the current head of the IMF is hinting at the same thing without being too direct.

    The mainstream media, and I put the BBC very much at the heart of that, are too scared to call it - but maybe thats understandable, who is brave enough to risk their job in todays climate?

    But i think its time to keep the faith. After all, the information is out there, and many people are talking about it. Hopefully, new people are waking up to the truth every day - there is much evidence of this online.

    Maintenance of the status quo is becoming almost too much for our economies to bear. Holding back the destructive economic forces - that true capitalists believe in - cannot last forever. Viva la revolution!!


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