The IMF’s Financial Catch 22: Global Banker or Lender of Last Resort?

August 2020

Stephen B. Kaplan (George Washington University), Sujeong Shim (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

IIEP working paper 2020-18

Abstract: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has dual institutional roles: a steward of international financial stability and a global banker safeguarding the resources of its sovereign shareholders. But, how does the IMF behave when its balance sheet becomes exposed to higher-than-usual credit risk, creating a financial catch-22? We expect the IMF varies its lending behavior, based on the nature of sovereign credit crises. When there is high contagion risk, the IMF aims to preserve global financial stability as a lender of last resort by extending large loans, notwithstanding its balance sheet strains. The IMF employs policy conditionality to hedge its lending risk, but prioritizes alleviating global market turmoil over program compliance. When market contagion is contained, however, the IMF is more likely to act as a traditional banker, suspending programs for non- compliance. Ironically, given its tendency to forgive non-compliance as a lender of last resort, our theoretical framework suggests that the Fund intensifies its moral hazard problem.

We test our theoretical priors by conducting a comparative case study analysis of IMF decision-making over time for two of its largest borrowers: Argentina and Greece. Leveraging volumes of hundred-paged minutes from IMF executive board
meeting archives and extensive field research interviews, we illustrate the lending stances of IMF directors evolve in response to changes in global contagion risk. By examining the IMF’s own institutional agency under high financial risk, this study offers new insights for the study of international political economy and international organizations.

JEL Codes

Key Words: IMF; lender of last resort; financial crises, institutional financial risk; contagion risk; Argentina; Greece

The Rise of Patient Capital: The Political Economy of Chinese Global Finance

July 2018

Stephen Kaplan

IIEP Working Paper 2018-2

Abstract: As the United States has retreated from its lead role in globalization – first because of the 2008 financial crisis, and now under President Donald Trump’s leadership – China has become a major global financial player. China, as the world’s largest saver, has rapidly expanded its cross-border lending since the crisis, more than doubling its overseas banking presence. What are the implications? I contend that China’s state-led capitalism is an important form of patient capital, characterized by a longerterm horizon. While technically classified as mobile capital, its higher risk tolerance and geopolitical shrewdness make state-owned capital less likely to swiftly exit debtor countries. Compared to traditional mobile capital, debtor governments thus gain more policy freedom, particularly during hard times when Western creditors might otherwise impose austerity and other onerous policy conditions. Employing an originally constructed dataset, the China Global Financial Index, I conduct an econometric test across 15 Latin American countries from 1990-2015. I find that left governments are more likely to borrow from China. However, notwithstanding this initial creditor choice, Chinese state-to-state lending then uniformly leads to higher budget deficits. It endows governments with more fiscal space to intervene in their economies by reducing their reliance on conditionality-linked Western financing. These results suggest that Chinese financing could be a development opportunity, but only if governments invest wisely. Otherwise, by lending without policy conditions, China may be encouraging developing country governments to spend without bounds, sowing the seeds for future debt problems.

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