Agency and Delegation in IMF Conditionality


I address the issue principal–agent relationships in the IMF from the perspective of attempting to understand the IMF as an international institution. However, this issue is also vital in current policy debates about reform of the IMF. Participants in these debates seem torn between calling the IMF a "runaway agency" and a "U.S. pawn" (Sanger 1998). The Economist reports that "the institution is widely viewed as the handmaiden of America?s Treasury Department" (Economist, 29 July 2000, 66). The report of the U.S. IFI Advisory Commission argues that if "the G–7 finance ministers can agree on a policy that they wish to pursue, for whatever reason, they can use the IMF as the instrument of that policy." Jeffrey Sachs, one of the members of that commission and a supporter of its conclusions, argues that the IMF is the instrument of a few rich governments (Financial Times, 25 September 2000). But in his statements as part of the IFI Advisory Commission, Sachs repeatedly raised questions about the public scrutiny and democratic accountability of the Fund, implying that the Fund bureaucracy acts without adequate political oversight. Clearly, both viewpoints cannot be correct – the Fund cannot simultaneously be an out–of–control bureaucracy and slave to its political masters. Only careful consideration of actual principal–agent relationships will bring clarity to this debate.