Why Gordon Brown can’t run the IMF

By Felix Salmon
April 19, 2011
IMFC, for many years, and he would love to take the top job of managing director.

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Gordon Brown is very comfortable at the IMF. He chaired its most important committee, the IMFC, for many years, and he would love to take the top job of managing director. There might be a vacancy soon, if the incumbent, Dominique Strauss Kahn, steps down to run for president of France. But it won’t be filled by Brown, now that UK prime minister David Cameron has made his opinions crystal clear.

Mr. Cameron told BBC Radio 4′s Today program: “I haven’t spent a huge amount of time thinking about this. But it does seem to me that, if you have someone who didn’t think we had a debt problem in the UK, when we self-evidently do, they might not be the best person to work out whether other countries around the world have a debt and deficit problem”.

He added: “Above all what matters is the person running the IMF someone who understands the dangers of excessive debt, excessive deficit, and it really must be someone who gets that rather than someone who says that they don’t see a problem.”

Mr. Cameron also said: “I certainly don’t want a washed-up politician from another country. It’s important that the IMF is led by someone extraordinarily competent.”

He suggested that the next IMF head could come from “another part of the world”, such as China or India. By convention they are usually chosen from European countries.

All of this is exactly right. Brown comes with way too much baggage: he’ll never be able to admit that enormous chunks of what he did as Chancellor turned out, in hindsight, to be disastrous.

The head of the IMF has to deliver tough news about debt and deficits to heads of state around the world — and Brown simply has no credibility on that front. And his diplomatic skills leave something to be desired as well.

More generally, it would be crazy to appoint a European to head the IMF right now, just as the biggest sovereign crises in the world look set to take place in Europe. If the IMF itself wants credibility, it must appoint a non-European to provide independent leadership in an era when the IMF will surely be asked to help bail out troubled European sovereigns.

It long since time that the head of the IMF stopped being a European. If and when DSK leaves, let’s replace him with someone highly qualified — someone who wasn’t a partial cause of the last financial crisis — from elsewhere in the world. It doesn’t really matter where, just so long as it’s not Europe or the U.S. Gordon Brown should be disqualified on both counts.

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