The idea of creating a body that could foster international monetary cooperation started at the Bretton Woods conference that took place in New Hampshire, United States in July 1944. During this conference, 44 governments agreed to create a body that could oversee economic cooperation with the aim of avoiding financial turmoil and currency devaluations that had contributed to crises such as the great depression in the 1930s. Two years later in 1946, 46 countries came together to create the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Currently, this organization has a membership of 188 countries.
Before the start of the Second World War, there was no single international system governing trade or even monetary policies. Whenever a country faced economic difficulties, it tried to deal with its issues in its own way. This created a huge problem because countries would adopt protectionist trade policies to safeguard their industries from goods produced by other countries. For this reason, economic crises became frequent leading to unstable currency exchanges, economic depressions, and currency devaluations. As a result, governments that attended the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in NH in 1944 sought to cooperate in order to foster greater economic stability in the world.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Purpose and Objectives
The aim of setting up a global monetary policy was threefold: foster monetary stability, facilitate trade, and fix balance-of-payments problems by making it easy for member countries to access short-term financing. These aspects would make international trade easier, enhance economic growth, and reduce poverty rates.
How the IMF Works
At the top of the International Monetary Fund is a three tiered governance body that consists of a board of governors, an executive board, and a managing director. Out of these, the board of governors is in charge of making monetary policy with each member country having a representative (usually a central bank governor or finance minister). In addition, the Board of Governors elects an International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) that meets two times every year to deliberate on economic and monetary issues that affect the world. After its deliberations, it makes its recommendations to the board of governors.
The executive board is in charge of the IMFs day-to-day operations including lending money to member countries. This board consists of 24 members and meets at least thrice every week to oversee daily operations. It is the duty of the executive board to select the IMFs managing director to serve for a renewable five-year period. In turn, the managing director is in charge of supervising the funds 2,800 employees as well as scrutinizing loan proposals. Traditionally, European nations nominate a candidate for the managing directors post while the post of deputy managing director goes to a US citizen.
Besides the governance structure, member countries contribute money to IMF. Each countrys contribution or quota depends on factors such as gross domestic product and trade with other countries. Furthermore, each countrys quota level determines its capacity to access IMF loans, voting power, and subscriptions. According to figures published by the fund, the total number of quota subscriptions available to members stands at 238 billion IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).
Before implementing certain policies, members must vote to approve or disapprove such decisions. To start with, the board of governors has the power to approve loans and policy decisions through a simple majority vote. In most cases, a 70 percent voting majority is enough to approve such decisions. Certain issues such as admitting a new member require an 85 percent vote majority. However, a study carried out and published by the Congressional Research Service found that 10 countries control 52.35% of the total votes. These countries include the US (16.75%), Japan (6.23 percent), Germany (5.81%), France (4.29%), UK (4.29%), China (3.81%), Italy (3.16%), Saudi Arabia (2.80%), Canada (2.56%), and Russia (2.39%).
In general, the IMF has several financial assistance programs that member countries can access including the Stand-By Arrangement, the Extended Fund facility (EFF), the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF), the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) tryst fund, the Policy Support Instrument (PSI), and the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL). Each of these loan programs addresses a particular need. For example, the PCDR is available to low income countries that experience devastating natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods. Some of the countries that have benefited from these loan programs in recent years include Greece, Colombia, Mexico, Macedonia, Poland, and Haiti. As of February 2013, the funds loan portfolio stood at more than $144.6 billion.
Besides financial assistance, the IMF also provides technical assistance to member countries. This includes provision of expertise in financial sector management, macroeconomic policy planning, as well as streamlining tax and revenue collection. In most cases, beneficiaries of this assistance are low and middle-income countries.
The IMF and Gold
Before the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, gold was a key pillar of the global monetary system. In fact, members had to pay 25 percent of their quota subscriptions in gold. Furthermore, members could pay loans using gold. As a result, the fund acquired large reserves of gold totaling 2,814.1 metric tons.
In 1978, an amendment to the funds Articles of Agreement limited the role of gold in the worlds monetary system. Since then, the fund has sold some of its gold reserves. Statistics published by the fund show that it approved the sale of 403.3 metric tons of gold in September 2009. This was by far one of the largest sales of gold approved by the executive board. This represented one eighth of the Funds total holdings at that time. The metals were sold to the Reserve Bank of India, the Bank of Mauritius, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, and the Bangladesh Bank.
The IMFs reasoning for selling gold is to increase their ability to provide loans to low income countries. The profits from the sales are distributed to countries who provide assurances that the money will go towards making an equal contribution to support concessional lending to low-income countries. Gold sales have also taken place in 1999-2000, 1976-1980, and 1970-1971.
Overall, the International Monetary Fund is a major player in the worlds economy. It plays a big role in fostering financial stability and raising the living standards of all humans. This has become necessary following the 2008 financial crisis as well as the current economic crisis affecting the Eurozone. At the same time, it provides financial assistance to members for purposes of correcting trade imbalances with other countries.
Below you can find further reading, and commentary by renowned experts.
How it all began, with greedy bankers and politicians.
What is the mission and activities of the IMF, and how does the fund make its decisions? The IMF and its critics respond.
What are the various IMF financing programs, how do they work, what are their objectives, and have they been effective?
Explore the history, role, operations, and effectiveness of IMF conditionality. Does it encourage economic and political reform, or does it contribute to financial crises?
Study the pros and cons of recent IMF financing programs in Africa, East Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Russia.
Should IMF financing decisions consider human rights, government corruption, geopolitics, social safety nets, and environmental issues in borrowing countries?
Examine recent proposals to reform the IMF that were offered by major industrial countries and leading scholars.
Is the IMF ineffective, unnecessary, and obsolete, or is it indispensable for international financial stability? Read opposing viewpoints and decide for yourself.
Read news stories and commentaries on the annual meetings of the IMF.