Despite an elegant solution that involved no new commitments of resources, the US Congress has refused to take up a long-delayed funding proposal for the International Monetary Fund. In the process, it derailed a multilateral agreement that was hammered out back in 2010—ironically, in the eyes of the rest of the world, with US President Barack Obama’s administration taking a leading role. And it did so at a time when financial disruption in emerging economies is reminding the world of the importance of a strong stabilising anchor at the core of the international monetary system.
After the initial disappointment, many are hoping that Congress will again take up the Obama administration’s IMF request after a short interlude. It will certainly have several opportunities to do so while working on other financial legislation. But, with Congressional elections due later this year, few are confident that lawmakers will be in any mood to change course until 2015 at the earliest.
This is an unfortunate and regrettable outcome for both the IMF and the international community as a whole. Congressional obstinacy is forcing the Fund to miss out on an opportunity to strengthen its finances at a time when most other countries have already approved the initiative. It is also being held back from addressing, albeit modestly, governance and representation deficits that have steadily eroded the integrity, credibility, and effectiveness of this important multilateral institution.
Meanwhile, global developments confirm that the recent period of financial tranquility remains a tentative one. Rather than being anchored by fundamental and durable reforms, the current calm has been secured through prolonged reliance on central banks’ experimental monetary policies, especially in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
These policies have improved domestic prospects in advanced countries, but they have accentuated the policy dilemmas facing many emerging economies. In some cases, they have overwhelmed policymaking capability and added to internal political instability—all of this at a time when no one knows the full range of side effects and unintended consequences of the West’s unconventional measures.
Yes, this is an important lost opportunity for all who value global growth and financial stability. That is undoubtedly bad news. But there is also a silver lining, because last month’s disappointment can be turned into an opportunity.
The 2010 agreement was, after all, a compromise—albeit a hard-fought one—that advanced only marginally the cause of long-delayed IMF reforms. Moreover, there were insufficient assurances that the limited changes would end up