Minor Thoughts from me to you

I think you're missing the point, Guys (The IMF)

A new article posted on the website of my favorite news magazine, The Economist, wonders whether the International Monetary Fund's new managing director, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, can save the organization from its slide into irrelevancy.

"The organisation’s legitimacy is under increasing attack. Fast-growing emerging economies feel under-represented in an institution where Europe and America still hold sway. Even more worrying, there is a big question-mark over the Fund’s relevance. Its role in rich countries has long been modest. But ten years ago it was at the centre of emerging-market financial crises, acting as the world’s financial fireman. Now that many emerging economies have built up vast stashes of foreign-exchange reserves that role is dramatically diminished. And since the Fund’s income depends on its lending, growing financial irrelevance has also spawned a budget crunch."

What the magazine never bothers to do, however, is ask the more obvious question: If we are coming to live in a world in which there are no fires for the fireman to put out, is it actually a bad thing that the fireman's becoming irrelevant?

It's a little surprising that a news magazine willing to make the brave yet sensical suggestion that Belgium really needs to just go ahead and split into two separate countries lacks the proper perspective on such an issue as this. The main points of the article, to a sane reader, all combine to form a cause for celebration, not a call to action. The IMF was established as a lender to countries in need of money. Fewer countries now need money. The IMF is shrinking as a result. Good.

A better question than "How will the IMF save itself?" would be: should the day come when the IMF is simply not needed, will its administration have the character to kill itself?

Such a day is unfortunately far into the future, but it's a question The Economist, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, and others of their ilk probably should start rolling around their heads now. It would give them a better sense of place, and remind them that organizations are not values in and of themselves.