IMF @ 75: When Lord Keynes pays a visit to the organisation he created…

Nice piece by Atish Ghosh, IMF’s historian in Finance & Development, a quarterly magazine released by IMF.

The piece is written in a conversation style between Keynes and Lagarde. Keynes visits IMF on its 75th anniversary. He is surprised to see a woman at helm of affairs and that too a French! Also surprised how the Great Britain to which he once belonged is not that great anymore:

“ID. I gotta see some ID.”

The elderly gentleman, attired elegantly in a three-piece suit and striped tie, stared back blankly. The guard gave an exaggerated sigh. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

“Keynes. John Maynard Keynes. Lord Keynes.”

“Look, buddy, I don’t care if you’re Lord of the Rings. I still need to see some ID before I let you into the building.”

A nameless bureaucrat, scurrying past, late for work, stopped dead in his tracks and whirled around. It was Keynes! He recognized the face from the bronze bust in the executive boardroom. “Excuse me,” he said, flashing his pass at the guard, “I’ll take care of this gentleman.”

“Make sure he gets a visitor pass,” the guard called after them.

They entered IMF Headquarters. “Please, Lord Keynes, won’t you have a seat, while I…”

“Weren’t you expecting me? Didn’t you receive my telegram?”

“Um…I’m afraid not. Let me call the Managing Director’s office. I’m sure they will sort it out.”

“Well, I am a bit late. American trains, you know, never punctual…” muttered Keynes, as he sat on the hard leather bench, appearing a bit dazed by the wide array of flags that adorned the lobby.

It was almost 20 minutes before the bureaucrat reappeared. “The Managing Director will be pleased to meet you now,” he announced.

“That’s most kind of him…um, what’s his name?”

“Lagarde. Christine Lagarde.”

“A lady? A French lady?”

The bureaucrat nodded.

“Oh, well, I suppose we have the No. 2 slot?”

“The First Deputy Managing Director is an American, David Lipton.”

“Ah, of course, the Americans. But surely, we have the No. 3 position? I mean, Great Britain has the second largest quota.1 I should know: I negotiated it myself.”

The bureaucrat coughed apologetically. “Actually, Japan has the second largest IMF quota now. Followed by China and Germany. But the United Kingdom has the fifth largest quota—tied with France,” he added consolingly.

Keynes was just digesting this piece of information when he was ushered into the Managing Director’s office.

“Lord Keynes, what an honor to meet you.”

“Enchanté, Madame.”

“I am so sorry that we haven’t arranged a better reception for you. To be honest, we weren’t really expecting…”

Keynes smiled thinly. “I know. I’ve been ‘in the long run’ for some time now.2 But I couldn’t resist visiting the Fund today, on its 75th birthday.”

🙂

Over the conversation, Keynes figures how some things have changed and some have remained the same:

Dusk was falling on what promised to be a beautiful Washington summer evening when Keynes returned to the Managing Director’s office.

“So, what do you think?” asked Lagarde.

“It seems to me that everything has changed. In my day, there were three constants: the weather; labor’s share of national income;6 and—I am sorry to say—women’s place in society.7 It’s all in flux now. Yet, at the same time, nothing has changed. The Fund still needs to help countries adjust to balance of payments problems without ‘resorting to measures destructive to national or international prosperity.’ It still needs to help achieve an equitable burden of adjustment between surplus and deficit countries and to manage volatile capital flows between source and recipient countries. And, on occasion, it still needs to regulate global liquidity. The only thing that’s changed is the nature of the shocks and problems that countries confront. But the fundamental mission of the Fund—helping its member countries cope with these problems—remains the same. Our real achievement at Bretton Woods was not in setting up the system of par values and fixed parities. It was in setting up an institution that could—and would—adapt to serve its membership.”

“Quite so,” replied Lagarde. “Come, I will walk you out.”

They rode the elevator in silence, lost in thought.

“Any other observations?” asked Lagarde, as she shepherded Keynes through the door.

“Yes,” replied Keynes. “When I see men—and women—of every race, of every nationality, and of every creed working together for the common good, I know that the IMF is in good hands.8 And,” he smiled, “when the IMF is in good hands, the world is in good hands.”

With a slight bow, Keynes turned and walked away, disappearing down 19th Street, NW.

Must read..

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