Austin Mackell writes:
In the midst of the media storm surrounding IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn last week, my feelings were perfectly expressed in a tweet by Paul Kingsnorth: “Could someone please arrest the head of the IMF for screwing the poor for 60 years?”
Without diminishing the seriousness of the sexual allegations against Strauss-Kahn, the role of the IMF, over past decades and at present, is a far bigger story. Of particular importance is its role at this crucial moment in the Middle East.
The new loans being negotiated for Egypt and Tunisia will lock both countries into long-term economic strategies even before the first post-revolution elections have been held. Given the IMF’s history, we should expect these to have devastating consequences on the Egyptian and Tunisian people. You wouldn’t guess it though, from the scant and largely fawning coverage the negotiations have so far received.
The pattern is to depict the IMF like a rich uncle showing up to save the day for some wayward child. This Dickensian scene is completed with the IMF adding the sage words that this time it hopes to see growth on the “streets” not just the “spreadsheets”. It’s almost as if the problem had been caused by these regimes failing to follow the IMF’s teachings.
Such portrayals are credulous to the point of being ahistorical. They do not even mention, for example, the very positive reports the IMF had issued about both Tunisia and Egypt (along with Libya and others) in the months, weeks, and even days before the uprisings.
To some extent, though, the IMF is aware that its policies contributed to the desperation that so many Egyptians and Tunisians currently face, and is keen to distance itself from its past. Indeed, as IMF watchers will know, this is part of a new image that the IMF, along with its sister organisation the World Bank, has been working on for a while. The changes, so far, do not go beyond spin. You can’t, as they say, polish a turd – but you can roll it in glitter.