By Lawrence Summers
The opinions expressed are his own.
European leaders will meet today for yet another “historic” summit at which the fate of Europe is said to hang in the balance. Yet it is clear that this will not be the last convened to deal with the financial crisis.
If public previews from France and Germany are a guide, there will be commitments to assuring fiscal discipline in Europe and establishing common crisis resolution mechanisms. There will also be much celebration of commitments made by Italy, and a strong political reaffirmation of the permanence of the monetary union. All of this is necessary and desirable, but the world economy will remain on edge.
Given that Europe is the largest single component of the global economy, the rest of the world has a stake in helping to avoid major financial accidents. It also has a stake in aiding continued growth in Europe and ensuring that the European financial system supports investment around the world – particularly as cross-border European bank lending dwarfs that of banks from any other region.
Now is also a historic juncture for the International Monetary Fund. The focus of the policy response to the crisis must now shift from Brussels and Frankfurt to the IMF’s boardroom.
From the problems of the UK and Italy in the 1970s, through the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the Mexican, Asian and Russian financial crises of the 1990s, the IMF has operated by twinning the provision of liquidity with strong requirements that those involved do what is necessary to restore their financial positions to sustainability. There is ample room for debate about the precise policy choices the fund has made in the past. But, the IMF has consistently stood for the proposition that the laws of economics do not and will not give way to political considerations. At key points the IMF has offered prescriptions, not just for countries in need of borrowed funds, but also for those whose success is systemically important for the global economy.