Dr Michael Hudson
Breaking News: Dr Hudson will tour Australia in October 09
Last month the G-20 authorized the International Monetary Fund to increase its loan resources to $1 trillion. It’s not hard to see why. Weakening currencies in the post-Soviet states threaten to raise default rates on foreign-currency mortgages as collapse of the Baltic real estate bubble drags down Swedish banks, while the Hungarian property plunge threatens Austrian banks. It seems reasonable to infer that creditor-nation banks hope to be bailed out. The IMF is expected to lend the Baltic, central European and other debtor-country governments money to pay them. These hapless debtor economies are then to follow IMF “conditionalities” to squeeze enough money out of their populations to pay foreign creditors – and repay the Fund by imposing yet more onerous taxes on their labor and industry, making them even more high-cost and therefore pushing them even further into trade and credit dependency. This is why there have been so many riots recently in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine, as was the case for so many decades throughout the Latin American countries that introduced the term “IMF riot” to the global vocabulary.
For fifty years the IMF has organized such payouts to creditor nations. Loans are made to debtor-country governments to “promote exchange-rate and price stability.” In practice this means pouring tens of billions of dollars into currency markets to make bad gambles against raiders. This is supposed to avert the beggar-my-neighbor nationalism and financial protectionism that aggravated depression in the 1930s. But the practical effect of IMF lending is to demand that debtor countries impose onerous IMF “conditionalities” that stifle their domestic markets. This is why the IMF was left with almost no customers until last year’s debt crisis deranged the world’s foreign exchange markets.
It is supposed to be merely incidental that the largest IMF shareholders, the United States and Britain, happen to be the major creditor nations and their banks the main beneficiaries of IMF loans. But in a Parliamentary question-and-answer session on May 6, Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown spilled the beans. Under pressure for his notorious “light-touch regulation” as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1997-2007), he undid half a century of rhetorical pretense by announcing that he was pressuring the IMF to bail out Britain in its nasty dispute with the Icelandic owners of a British bank that went under. He was in a position to know the nitty-gritty of who owed what and which nation’s monetary authorities were responsible for which banks. So when he said that he was strong-arming the IMF and other organizations to force Iceland’s government to pay for his own government’s mistakes, he must have known this was breaking the unwritten law of pretending that the IMF is not the servant of creditor nations in bilateral disputes with smaller economies.