Opinion

The Great Debate

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Austerity is a moral issue

Security worker opens the door of a government job center as people wait to enter in Marbella, Spain, December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

In the nearly five years since the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, the remedy for the world’s economic doldrums has swung from full-on Keynesianism to unforgiving austerity and back.

The initial Keynesian response halted the collapse in economic activity. But it was soon met by borrowers’ remorse in the shape of paying down debt and raising taxes without delay. In the last year, full-throttle austerity has fallen out of favor with those charged with monitoring the world economy.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has been urging German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been imposing singeing public spending cuts on her neighbors, and George Osborne, Britain’s finance minister, who has been doing the same to the Brits, to ease up. The IMF is now urging fiscal measures beyond monetary easing “to nurture a sustainable recovery and restore the resilience of the global economy.”

Earlier this month, Lagarde criticized America’s automatic sequester cuts for being too deep, too soon. The United States, she said, “should consolidate less in the short term, but give … economic actors the certainty that there will be fiscal consolidation going forward.”

How Lagarde should be appointed at the IMF

By Mohamed El-Erian
The opinions expressed are his own.

Eager to retain a historical but outmoded entitlement, European politicians seem to be coalescing around Christine Lagarde to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Managing Director of the IMF. Lagarde has the qualifications to successfully lead a multilateral institution that is central to the well being of the global economy. Her ability to do so, however, may critically depend on how she is appointed.

Lagarde has considerable skills and expertise; she has gained important experience in both the private and public sectors; and, judging from her stint as France’s Minister of Finance, she has navigated well the corridors of political power at the national and European levels.

Lagarde would be the first woman to lead a Bretton Woods institution. Such an overdue appointment would send an important message to an IMF demoralized by disturbing allegations of sexual assault by Strauss-Kahn. It would also come at a time when delicate questions are being raised as to whether the institution has historically been tolerant of inappropriate behavior.

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