Countries don't normally approach the IMF unless they have already gotten themselves in debt, usually to private banks. The other main case is currency stabilization, against the hot money that Stiglitz discussed. Currency stabilization was the purpose for which the IMF was established, but its expertise in international finance, and its experience negotiating with governments, meant it was the only organization available to be the broker in the debt reductions of the 80s debt crisis.
The World Bank does alleviate poverty. By borrowing at favorable rates from the capital markets, due to its diversified portfolio and managed lending, it makes loans available to developing countries at concessional rates (although right now the rates to a typical emerging market are low enough that the World Bank can't offer them much of a benefit). A one or two percent reduction in the borrowing cost for a port or a power station, over 30 years, can make a substantial difference in the cost of the final service.
There are no cases I am aware of in which IMF intervention was followed by an increase in indebtedness, and not many for the World Bank. The stories of high indebtedness are not due to lending by those two, but by the banks of the rich world.
For the most part this was because of loans to the private sector, which, until about 1993, were typically guaranteed by the national government of the borrower because of difficulties with things like asset seizure by foreigners in case of default. In the late 70s, huge amounts of money poured into Latin America from "recycled petrodollars" (earnings by OPEC states which had insufficient local projects to invest in, and so placed their money with the international money center banks). This was lent to the firms in the rapidly growing LDCs, but when U.S. and U.K. policy changed in 1978, the world economy slowed and these companies began to go broke. The governments were left with the debt.
Subordination of other debt to IMF and World Bank debt requires no consent by the borrowing countries. The private banks accept it because lending to a developing country with access to good advice and basic finance is a better bet. Subordination is win-win, unless the country is on the brink of default, in which case most foreign lenders aren't interested in lending.
There were cases, mostly African toward the end of the 90s, of the IMF lending money for debt service. In general that was part of a deal for the country to put its financial house in order and get back to a creditworthy basis.
Often it was part of a deal to write down large amounts of debt that had become unpayable (like what Argentina did without IMF brokerage, in 2003) but in the case of some African countries the bulk of the debt was long-term concessional debt from the World Bank and from foreign governments (private banks, for the most part, would not lend to, say, Mozambique or Central African Republic). In those cases the principal payments would have been negligible, and if the country was restructuring, they would need temporary help with meeting interest payments or their cost of borrowing would rise.
It helps if you know the history of African economies in the 90s. For most of them it was a lost decade - universities and roads deteriorating, no investment in infrastructure, etc., etc. The reason was almost entirely the fall in commodity prices worldwide, with African nations highly dependent on exports of commodities such as minerals, oil, coffee and cocoa to earn foreign exchange.
And why did commodity prices fall? Europe and America had shifted to fiscal austerity (Gramm-Rudman in the U.S., Maastricht in the EU) and the whole world economy slowed. Add to this the end of supply restraint in the U.S. agricultural markets in 95, and the result was tumbling prices across the board. We mostly associate the 90s with the DotCom bubble, but the Clinton budget surpluses were the result of austerity, and the Economist ran a cover story near the end of the decade asking if oil would fall to $5 per barrel (it had briefly dropped to 10 from 45 at the beginning of the decade).
For the sake of simplicity, the UN and the World Bank do often negotiate strategy simultaneously. The UN has little meaningful money to dole out these days - UNDP and UNICEF still count for something in the really poor countries, but in many countries in Africa and most countries outside Africa, their main effort is to slightly influence government budget priorities using the little leverage they have. I am not familiar with Lebanon's case, but I would guess that the World Bank non-concessional arms, such as the IFC, count for something, and that the blessing of the financial organizations (including the Asian Development Bank, which has serious money to lend) would help leverage private flows.
Umm, no, I read the Palast piece, and he distorted constantly. It reminded me of reading communist propaganda from before the wall came down - a grain of truth here, a salting of spin there, and presto, the result is essentially a lie.
Almost all of the "steps" that Palast was criticizing apply mainly to the structural adjustment process of the 90s. It is hard for us now to credit, but up until at least 1980 and the beginnings of the Asian Tiger surge, most developing countries followed the heavily statist line of Russia and the main academic economists in the field of development. The belief (not totally foolish) was that the government could make better decisions than the private sector would, and could extract current resources, through taxes, commodity marketing boards, and profits from industry, to fund investment that the private sector would hold back from due to coordination failures.
By 1990 most of them had realized, as Gorbachev did, that the model was not working. But they were trapped into controlled prices, fixed exchange rates, high tariffs on imports (so that a broad range of manufactured goods cost much more than if they imported them, as part of a strategy to develop their industry, again not totally foolish), capital controls and a host of other government tools that were hurting more than they helped. So the "Washington Consensus" began to leverage them away from such distortions with structural adjustment lending. Stiglitz had a lot of complaints about that process, as well as about the IMF strategies for fighting currency crises, but at no point did he argue that the Washington institutions were corrupt or were trying to "take over" developing countries.
Privatization was a problem in many countries. It was a shortcut to get the government out from under money-losing industries, in most cases. Yes, some water companies and some electricity companies were privatized, often with results pleasing to the average citizen (one reason the old companies were losing money was that the price was kept low, but as a result they could not make needed repairs and often couldn't get even middle class consumers to pay for usage). Plenty of privatization was of mineral extraction, feeding the commodity output boom that cut prices for African exports.
In the former communist countries, privatization (of industry that had been part of the planned economy) was completely corrupt in Eastern Europe but, in theory, not corrupt in Russia. The Yeltsin government issued stock to the citizens in the newly private companies, making tractors, steel, coal, shoes, and on and on. But many of the companies could not compete with imports and went bankrupt, and the oligarchs went around buying up the shares in companies, such as Lukoil, which they shrewdly deduced would not go bankrupt and ordinary citizens would not know to hang onto stock in. Before long there was plenty of corruption, what with permits needed and extortion by organized crime, but it did not suffer from the E. Europe problem of selling off to consortia of foreign investors who would bribe the government to win the bidding. In no case did Washington pressure cause privatization. It's just that the governments were broke and the state-run enterprises were hemorrhaging money. If they wanted to be credit-worthy, they needed a plan.
In hindsight, people like Anders Aslund and Jeffrey Sachs acknowledge that the transition was too much too fast, but the logic behind the drastic transition was sound. These economies had already turned into corruption factories for the bureaucrats, who knew how to extract funds for permission to do anything (including to get the resources planned for a business). If uncompetitive companies were kept propped up behind tariffs, the ordinary person would be soaked mainly for bribes, rather than for investment funds to ever get the industry on a paying basis.
If things had been done that way, we might be shaking our heads over an entirely different set of disasters, and tsk-tsking at experts who didn't know the transition needed to be all at once. What was not understood in the West was how systematically uncompetitive the firms were, due to decisions like location and production process having been taken for political, rather than economic, reasons. (Not to mention they did not know the first thing about producing to please customers - but it was believed that with foreign investment that could be quickly overcome, as it mostly was in E. Europe and China.)
The order is a bit odd: step Two? It's true that countries were pressured to let their currency value fall to a market level, rather than overvaluing it and rationing the foreign exchange allowed in. This (rationing) had been another good idea mainly gone wrong. Rationed foreign exchange should be directable to machinery and other investment goods. In some countries, like Tanzania, that more or less worked. But the more typical case was black market foreign exchange and bribes to get official permission for importing BMWs for the elites.
Capital market liberalization is one way to cut the cord, but the IMF and World Bank in general did not push for that, but for the exchange rate to be allowed to be set on a market basis. Flexible exchange rates. There are some problems with those, especially when needed imports are rising in price and export earnings are sagging, but it isn't clear that rationing foreign exchange is much of a solution even in those problematic cases. Basically, if your country is less able to afford imports, you are going to have to import less.
When I supported continuing funding for structural adjustment lending at the IMF, the State Department called me to inform me that "people die when these prices rise." And it is true. Subsidized food sometimes keeps people alive who would otherwise die, and subsidized gasoline sometimes lets people get to work who otherwise couldn't. But it turns out there are ways to hold down prices for the poor without the middle class reaping a huge windfall in the form of regulated prices (and the middle class is in a better position to see that they get the limited supplies of the price-controlled good.) Off-price government food stores, sometimes with certification of poverty status for customers, sprang up to stop people from starving when prices rose to market levels. IMF riots can be avoided by using such methods in the first place, rather than pandering to crowds by promising to fix prices in inflationary times.
The reason it happens when the country is "down and out" is, of course, that they are not running things in a very orderly way, and so they run out of money. Also because nobody bails you out when your exports aren't selling. All you can do is go to the lenders and say, "we can't pay anymore", but if you do that while subsidizing gasoline, the lenders will slam the door on you and tell you not to ever come back looking for another loan.
All cases where the government had been pursuing unsustainable policies. The Indonesian riots, by the way, followed the contagion crisis from the 1997 Thai crisis, and led to the introduction of democracy in Indonesia, with, so far, quite satisfactory results. Not so good for the Chinese minority which owned much of the business sector, but then, they had been sustained by corruption and really had not reached out to the indigenous population at all.
There have been no financial blockades organized for refusing to open markets. Mostly countries have opened them voluntarily, and when not completely voluntary, these moves were usually in exchange for lower barriers by the industrialized countries against the LDC exports.
It's true that structural adjustment programs usually called for discontinuing the money-losing import substitution programs, which tried to foster industry behind tariff walls. Bad enough to soak the consumers that way, but a fair share of the bill often went to the government, to keep money-losing enterprises going. You might think they could pay for it with tariff revenue, but in a typical case the tariff would have been so high that imports of the product were choked off, so no revenue from imports. It's difficult to make a case for propping up industries that overcharge consumers, run at a loss despite having a monopoly in the local market, and (in most cases) produce shoddy goods, when allowing imports would meet people's actual needs. If these "infant industries" had been in the habit of growing up to be competitive, there would not have been an issue, but it turns out that "export promotion," as practiced by Korea, Japan and Malaysia, was much more sensible than import substitution.
There is some reason to push for greater openness in negotiations, but the kinds of negotiated details that are often kept silent can be pretty important to actually getting the deal. In Ghana, two years ago, the IMF insisted that the government put in place "full cost recovery" for electricity. Prices jumped by more than 40 percent. But the power outages that had been common just about disappeared, and the petrol now goes to the power stations, where it is much more efficiently used than in all the middle class generators. Poorer people pay more and are forced to be careful what it goes to, having to take turns hosting school kids for homework after 6 pm, for example, but they don't find it just shutting down on them for days on end (so that water pressure for the toilet disappears, and refrigeration fails, for example).
There were some nasty demonstrations, and the government ended up taking back around a quarter of the price increase (but lost the next election anyway). This made me wonder if the government had negotiated a secret Plan B with a fallback for political reasons. You can't publicize that sort of thing.
But anyway it isn't clear anyone is really worse off. People just get mad when their budget is hurt, and governments should not be trying to stop market price increases in the first place, so that customers are being shielded from the harsh realities of the world with no actual basis for the chosen level of the price.
Dani Rodrik, who has been more critical than Stiglitz, argued that the privatization of mines caused the mineral price collapses of the 90s. Private producers were so much more efficient than the old government producers, in copper, iron ore, and trace minerals, that the export earnings dropped by as much as half due to the lower prices. The problem, he observed, was a fallacy of composition: greater efficiency for any one producer would make that producer better off, but greater efficiency for all of them at once makes them all worse off.
There's some truth to that, but the falls in coffee, cocoa, tea and cotton prices indicate that the world macroeconomy was just as much responsible (World Bank investment in Vietnamese coffee production also hurt that market). At any rate, such privatization was happening, for example in Chile's copper sector, without any IMF or World Bank inducement, and countries who had not privatized would have been still worse off, with their old high costs exceeding the new lower prices as others privatized.
Glad to see you reading a left wing rag like the Guardian, but aren't you afraid it will rot your brain?
Hmm. Maybe the rot has already happened. On the other hand, Robert Tulip has been known to advocate something reminiscent of this notion, so maybe it is not entirely crazy. Just mostly.
Depends on the method. Land reform is usually very helpful, although feudal lords are not known for their support of it. Marx has nothing to do with either its efficiency improvement or its populist appeal.
You are confusing them with Wall Street. The IMF is usually called in when resources are running out, and the people who fault them for, for example, ending subsidies on basic goods usually have nothing in mind as an alternative except redistributing wealth from rich countries to pay the bills for them. I can see how that would go over with the Tea Party.
It is not usually understood that while inequality within nearly every country has risen due to globalization, overall world inequality has actually fallen. The reason is the huge uplift in average income in the low income countries in the 90s and 2000s. Asia accounts for the bulk of it. ("Oh, Asia!" I can hear people say. "I thought you were talking about poor countries." China and India were both desperately poor in 1990. Half of each country below the dollar a day income level. Globalization has helped immensely, though in both cases there have been barriers to penetration of the benefits into the subsistence economy of the countryside.)
With headquarters functions such as marketing and engineering concentrated in the rich countries, those educated parts of the rich countries have done really well from globalization. The working class of these countries is arguably worse off, but not obviously much worse off. Sure, they feel left behind, but in most cases they can still afford the standard of living they could in 1980, with the internet added.