Daniel W. Drezner

Please, Congress, support my hypothesis

By now, readers have a pretty good idea of the thesis of my latest book topic: Contra the arguments of many, the system of global economic governance worked pretty well during the 2008 financial crisis, and it’s continued to work "well enough" since 2008.  Furthermore, American leadership is at least partly rsponsible for the system ...

By now, readers have a pretty good idea of the thesis of my latest book topic: Contra the arguments of many, the system of global economic governance worked pretty well during the 2008 financial crisis, and it’s continued to work "well enough" since 2008. 

Furthermore, American leadership is at least partly rsponsible for the system working. Despite bouts of partisan gridlock, the United States government still enacted a plethora of emergency rescue packages (via the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program), expansionary fiscal policies (via the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the payroll tax cut, and the extension of the Bush tax cuts), stress tests of large financial institutions, expansionary monetary policy (via interest rate cuts, three rounds of quantitative easing and Operation Twist), and financial regulatory reform (via Dodd-Frank). 

Another area where the U.S. has led the way is reforming IMF governance. Since 2006, the IMF has engaged in two rounds of quota reform so the distribution of power within the institution better reflects the actual distribution of power. A third round is planned for completion in 2014. As Ted Truman explains in this Peterson Institute of International Economics policy brief, U.S. leadership played a crucial role in these negotiations. 

So far, so good for my hypothesis. There’s just one problem — Congress has yet to ratify the last round of quota revisions. Since the reforms can’t be enacted without U.S. approvial, this is a thing. According to Truman:

The United States bears substantial responsibility for the current situation. After 15 years in which US administrations of both political parties have pushed aggressively and imaginatively for governance changes in the IMF culminating with the central
US role in shaping the 2010 Seoul package, the United States has failed to implement that package. The rest of the world has been remarkably tolerant of the US delay in acting on the 2010 Seoul IMF reform package, but that patience is running out. US leadership and influence in the IMF is weakening, and thereby the influence of the institution itself. This is the principal reason why it is urgent to enact the pending IMF legislation.

From a US and global perspective there is only downside and no upside in further delay. Doing so would support the IMF as the central institution promoting global economic growth and financial stability, involve no true financial cost to the US taxpayer, and reinforce US leadership and influence in this crucial institution, positioning the United States to continue to lead in negotiating further IMF governance reforms.

Don’t take Truman’s word on this alone, however. As the Financial Times’ Robin Harding reports, a lot of experts are starting to get antsy about the lack of congressional action

Almost 100 policy makers and academics have written to the US Congress urging the ratification of crucial reforms of the International Monetary Fund that international leaders agreed more than two years ago.

The signatories argue in an open letter, sent to House of Representatives and Senate leaders on Monday and seen by the Financial Times, that if the US does not sign up it will undermine its authority in negotiations at the G20 and other institutions that govern the world economy.

“Failure to act would diminish the role of the United States in international economic policy making and undermine US efforts to promote growth and financial stability,” the letter says.

Signatories include holders of the top international economic job at the US Treasury under Republican and Democratic administrations. They include Tim Adams, who worked for former president George W. Bush, and Jeffrey Shafer, who was part of the Clinton administration.

I’d say that it’s a cruel irony that the United States is the brake on reforms spearheaded by … the United States, except that by now, savvy readers know that this sort of thing is disturbingly common

Does it matter? Well, as much as I love to pooh-pooh the BRICS, they do share one genuine area of consensus — they want more influence over global governance structures. If they don’t get it, there will come a time when they will be both willing and able to set up institutions on their own — like this one. Which would be a shame for two reasons. First, as a general rule of global economic governance, it’s better to have great powers on the inside pissing out rather than the reverse. Second, the IMF has had some good mojo as of late, demonstrating renewed independence from Eurocrats and proposing some nifty policy ideas

If Congress stalls this quota reform measure that the executive branches from both parties have negotiated , they will be weakening a U.S.-friendly international institution and inviting potential rivals to set up or bolster alternatives. Which, if you think about, is a really stupid way to run U.S. foreign economic policy. 

More importantly to me, however, it would really f**k up one of my book’s hypotheses. Congressional gridlock hasn’t sabotaged too much in the way of American global leadership for the past give years. Blocking quota reform would be a pretty big deal, though. It would force me to revise a book chapter, and I really don’t want to do that. 

So, in the name of political science, I humbly beseech Congress to pass the damn quota reform bill. 

[Uh, you really think that an appeal to political sciece is gonna work with this crew?!–ed.]  Uh … in the name of preventing China and its allies from creating a New Anti-American World Order and threatening a global governance gap, I humbly beseech Congress to pass the damn quota reform bill.  [Much better!!–ed.]

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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