The Guardian Poll on IMF Voting Reform: Missing the Point, but Still Worth Voting
The Guardian on-line is running a poll on the need for IMF voting reform. It is well worth voting – but it misses the point. Besides confusing the process for selecting the Managing Director (on which the US takes a back seat, leaving the choice to the European governments) with the weighted voting system, the only alternative it presents to the status quo is reform to “reflect the shift in global economic power towards emerging markets”.
As the Commission on Social Determinants of Health said,
“It is only through such a system of global governance, placing fairness in health at the heart of the development agenda and genuine equality of influence at the heart of its decision-making, that coherent attention to global health equity is possible.”
Nowhere is this more true than the IMF: it has virtually run the economies of much of the developing world (with serious adverse effects on health) for much of the last 30-35 years, while itself being run by the developed country governments, who have some 60% of the votes – four times their share either of population or of membership. The US, and the US alone, has a veto on all major policy decisions – including voting reform. The voting system was created in 1944, when only a handful of developing countries were members (most still being under colonial rule), they rarely borrowed from the Fund, and IMF lending did not carry any policy conditionality.
Of course the voting system is out of date. And most certainly, power needs to be shifted from the developed to the developing world. But shifting political power to those who are becoming economically powerful is a very long way from “genuine equality of influence”. It is not the emerging market economies which are most under-represented, but the “submerging markets” which have been critically damaged by decades of wrong policies imposed through the neo-colonial governance systems of the IMF and World Bank.
As I have argued before on The Guardian on-line, we would not consider a system like this for a moment at the national level – a system where rich people’s votes are weighted in proportion to their incomes. So why do we continue to put up with it at the global level? Why do Northern governments which proclaim their own democratic credentials continue to defend it? And why doesn’t even the progressive Guardian think that the alternative is democracy rather than more accurate economic weighting?
I have supported voting reform in the poll, because the current system is indefensible. But in doing so, I am supporting less, not better, economic weighting – the application of generally accepted democratic principles to counterbalance economic power, not a refinement of economic weights to reinforce and entrench it. I imagine many others, especially in the poorer countries of the developing world, take the same view. It must be galling from an African perspective, after 30 years of having their economies largely run by Northern governments through the proxy of the IMF for a supposedly progressive Northern media outlet to ask only if Asian and Latin American governments should have a greater say in African policy-making.
I hope this will be taken into account in interpreting the results of the poll.