"One" is a thirty something caucasian male of English birth, Asian residency, mixed politics, a strong social conscience & an arguably overly opinionated mind. A champagne socialist, armchair environmentalist and an ardent future activist to a wonderful cause as yet unknown. Married to a gorgeous Floridian belle, Father of an amazing 12 year old daughter and a beautiful half English, half Welsh, half Scottish, quarter part Irish American made in Singapore boy.

As a product of some interesting genetics, untold maternal sacrifice and much good fortune the ramblings that follow may prove either of interest or objection to the casual reader. Sometimes I write often, sometimes not often at all but when and if I do in future I truly look forward to sharing my perspective through this new window with the world.

Friday, June 3, 2011

EU, FIFA & The mighty IMF

Lets break the habit of a lifetime and craft a post that’s for once not taking a dig at certain American minority views and the scary political mouthpieces that spread their ignorant rhetoric.. Lets shift as I say and have a dig for a change at their Europeans cousins who whilst seemingly blessed with a certain style and oratory intellect that many I typically write about lack they still deep down manage to hold that quintessential quality that’s demanded of Politian’s the world over... The ability to adopt at times pure blazon and unabashed hypocrisy.

After an opening like that I’m sure 99% of readers (at current run rates that’s about 2 people excluding myself ) are probably preparing themselves for a full blown assault on Joseph S Blatter and the circus of events surrounding his reelection yesterday to the top spot at FIFA. Our dear friend Sepp somehow managed to weed out his rivals yet again to run unopposed for president which simply doesn’t sound very democratic to me, Ok sure this is a policy that seems to work fairly well in the Island city state where I happily reside but at FIFA where the walls are falling and the corruption rife surely someone should have had the balls and the decency to stand up for change and not allow Sepp to continue his seemingly lifelong goal of destroying the beautiful game for future generations to come…. Sorry, I digress, no I’m not going to rant about FIFA (hmmmmmm…) but I do feel a few words are required on the subject of EU sovereign bailouts and the travesty of succession that’s seemingly on the cards at the IMF.

So lets get the fun stuff out the way first, Dominique Dominique Dominique, WHY ???? I just don’t get it… You run the IMF, your favourite to win the next French presidential campaign, married to a smart wealthy heiress and you throw it all away by ploughing through your minibar and abusing a chamber maid in NY !!!! Seriously… I know you’re French and as such genetically predisposed to such things but why o why would you do it now ?? Insanity…You’ve just managed to make Elliot Spitzer look like a schoolboy in his own back yard !... Ok, back to the future and the race to fill our friend DSK’s britches at the veritable institution of the IMF (not to be confused with FIFA…).

Since 1945 when 29 countries came together and signed an agreement to stabalise exchange rates and help fund the reconstruction of the world following WW2 the IMF has grown and today proudly describes itself as “an organization of 187 countries (as of July 2010), working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty.”… In layman’s terms the IMF pools money from its members and then acts as bank manager, patriarch and professor in times of economic crisis making loans to troubled nations and conditioning them in most cases on the implementation of fiscal reform as best representing the institution itsself. In the 65 years of operation this “Global” fund has had only 10 Managing Directors who are ultimately defining that institutional policy, lets not be surprised to learn that all 10 happen to have been white males from northern Europe and now the hunt is seemingly on for number 11.

Now I've nothing against Christine Lagarde, she strikes me as being an incredibly smart and articulate Politian who carries herself with an elegance as only a French lady can. Further I think its great that the “old boys club” may soon be run by a woman who lets be blunt is highly unlikely to abuse a chamber maid any time soon but still, she’s French. I’m trying not to seem anti French here but I have to believe that electing yet another European to the top spot at an organisation that’s currently focused on bailing out Europe seems just a little…. well “insider” no ??? I’ve never been a fan of European politics at the best of times but the latest EU campaign on behalf of Ms Lagarde is making me feel decidedly unwell. The arrogance of the argument - that only a European can truly understand and deal with the complexities of the European debt crisis - is breath-taking. But there again one should not be really surprised. Humility has never been a big feature in Brussels and Strausbourg. Furthermore I have to ask what evidence is there that the Europeans have managed to make a good fist of the debt crisis so far? Not a lot is the answer from where I sit. When the emerging markets of Latin America were crumbling or the Asian Tiger was waning having a pious white European passing judgment and pretending to be impartial seemed almost acceptable, but today, in a world dominated by US sub prime fallout and the mess the EU has created through the grandiose political ambitions of the euro elite and their blind quest to attain critical mass doesn’t it seem that today is the right time to find a successor who might be objective ? possibly have black hair, be shorter than 5 foot eight and probably wear glasses ?

In the good old days when it was emerging economies getting into difficulties the IMF therapy was harsh. Devaluation, haircuts, mass privatisation and deregulation. That was seen as what was required to put economies in shape and overall it worked. However, now that the boot is on the other shoe the approach is completely different. Instead it's let's keep everything on a drip in the hope that things can eke themselves out as long as possible no matter how implausible the reality is so that Europe doesn't have to mark things to market and take the hit, It's a case of "do as I say, not as I do".

This argument takes me away from the IMF and more to the general hypocrisy prevalent within the EU as a whole. My desk at work engaged last week in a fantastically opinionated discussion on Greece and the EU's most likely path from here. The most obvious takeaway was simply that no-one seemed to doubt that the EU & IMF will ultimately throw more good money after bad to delay any "nasty stuff" for another year or so in the hope that something will happen to magically fix things between now and then. What was way more interesting in my humble opinion was the more central discussion of not what WILL they do but more what SHOULD they do. A colleague argued very eloquently that austerity was working, results were admittedly slower than previously hoped for but there were certainly signs of progress. Given this he suggested that maintaining the life support machine was justified as if another year brings better results still then the market may be more receptive to a minor restructuring when they can see light at the end of the tunnel.

My stance was the kind of the bull in a china shop approach that I guess excludes me from running against Christine. Greece has a debt burden that they simply can’t support and zero belief from the private sector, at some point there needs to be painful action to "right size" their debts and every day that passes that pain simply becomes more. If the EU amends its current package in maturity or coupon then in my books two big problems occur, first, for sure Greece will be held to even harsher measures curbing further their fiscal flexibility, this undoubtedly leads to more civil unrest and guess what there's a long history in Europe of very "bad for the world" new governments coming to power when the people of a country feel cheated... Now Greece might not have the military potential of Germany in the 30's or Russia 15 years before that however if we’re not all careful I can fully see a situation where derivatives referencing Greek government debt are ultimately triggered by a government repudiation rather than an EU led restructuring... Secondly by caving don’t we set HORRIBLE precedents that lets be honest the Irish and Portuguese will jump all over..."hey, you lowered their interest rate... what about us ??".

Bottom line I guess I'm still naively caught up on the simple hypocrisy that when a banking system gets into trouble (lets say Ireland) then the Politian’s all scream from the rafters "haircuts and forced restructuring for all bond holders regardless of seniority before public money will be used to add capital" (the bank equivalent of right sizing debt), yet when those same Governments are on their knees begging for emergency loans they don’t seem so vocal on the haircut and restructuring front before they happily accept taxpayers money from their brother and sister nations.
Ultimately I guess the same rules don't seem to count when the people making the decisions also happen to be the largest creditors to the institutions in crisis.

That thought takes me nicely back to our friends at the IMF and their impartiality in these days of woe, my final thought therefore is a simple one, If you want a football match to be seen to be fair you don't take a referee from one of the teams.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as an older.white male of European origin it makes me sh8udder to think that a French woman should be so bold as to lobby for the position as Chair of the IMF. It is just not right. Women are good as Queens. They are more "sensible" than men and therefore make brilliant figureheads, well able to pass on savvy counsel to their ministers.... but "Queen of the IMF" does not float my boat, tinkle my bell or whatever other phrase of that genre which springs to mind. Leave it to the old white males. As to your suggestion that a person from Asia might be qualified for the top spot... that thought is hard to digest and anyway they are a long way away and don't really grasp the uniquely European mindset of "Let them eat cake"