Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Committees that Rule the World
(Who should lead a multipolar world? Part III)

Last time at The Vreelander, we learned that votes for 187 member-countries countries at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are out of whack with reality. Advanced industrialized countries have more than their fair share, while emerging market countries are under-represented. But that’s only part of the global governance problem. I think a bigger issue is how the votes of the 187 member-countries are put together to elect the 24-member Executive Boards of the IMF and the World Bank. Who are these guys (yeah, they’re pretty much all guys) helping to rule the global economy?

So, the Executive Boards of the IMF and the World Bank are basically mirror images of each other. Some of the Directors represent single countries – the "great powers" – while the "rest of the world" elects the remaining Directors (elections are held every two years).

At present, there are eight governments with country-specific Directors: the United States, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia (in order of vote-share).

The "rest of the world" pools their votes into blocs to elect the remaining 16 Directors – and there are no rules. Here’s how things shape up (click the figures for a larger view):

Some things should strike you as strange. Like – why does the guy from li’l Belgium have more votes at the IMF than the guy from France? How on earth could tiny Denmark possibly have more votes than mighty China? And, um, over at the World Bank, the guy from Austria has the largest share second only to the United States??? Are ya kiddin’ me?

What’s going on is that some countries team up as a big voting bloc and elect a very powerful Director to represent their interests. So, out of a bloc of countries, which one gets to have a guy from their country be the leader?

Some groups allow the Directorship to rotate across all members – this is true for the two African Directorships. Other regional blocs are more "hegemonic," with only the most powerful countries in the bloc controlling the Directorships.

Why would a country give its political support to a hegemon?

The case of Spain involves colonial legacies. Spain currently controls an IMF Executive Directorship representing a group of Latin American countries. Spain shares control of this Directorship, alternating with Mexico (the Alternate Director) and Venezuela (the Director at the World Bank).

The Canadian bloc is more geographically diverse, but also follows colonial legacies. Canada partnered early on with Ireland, a fellow former colony of the United Kingdom. The Canadian bloc then took on other former British colonies of the Americas as they became independent and joined the IMF and World Bank.

Then there are blocs that do not exclusively follow regional lines. Iran, for example, leads a bloc at the IMF including Middle Eastern and North African countries, along with Ghana, which was recruited into the bloc in 1973.

Italy is a remarkable case. With more votes than either Saudi Arabia or Russia, Italy has enough votes to elect its own Directorship. Rather than go it alone, however, the government has formed a bloc including mostly Southern European neighbors – Greece, Malta, Portugal, San Marino, and Albania. The bloc also includes Timor-Leste, which is far outside of the regional pattern. By bringing together this coalition, the Director from Italy actually has a greater vote-share than does the Director from China.

The Directorships of the Netherlands and Austria-Belgium are even more outstanding. At the World Bank, they control, respectively, the third and second most powerful Directorships. The Netherlands bloc includes a group of non-obvious partners: Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania and Ukraine. Austria and Belgium represent Belarus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Turkey.

And then there is Switzerland. Since joining in 1992, Switzerland has held Directorships at the World Bank and the IMF. Currently, Switzerland represents a hodgepodge group including Azerbaijan, Kyrgyz Republic, Poland, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

How does Switzerland do it? My research indicates that foreign aid might be helping. This is straightforward political economy: trading money for political influence. Rich countries provide foreign aid to developing countries that offer political support at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

How much Swiss foreign aid is due to Swiss-bloc membership? Consider some statistics from 2008. Total Swiss Official Development Assistance to independent countries was $758 million, and the 6 poor countries in the Swiss-bloc received about 94 million of this – or 12% of the total. Considering that the total population of these 6 poor countries (less than 60 million) accounts for less than 1% of total world population, getting a full 12% is, well, quite a large share of Swiss aid!

Back in 1992 when Switzerland first joined the World Bank and the IMF, the Swiss government worked hard to put together a coalition of other new members so that it could be elected to the prestigious Directorships. By leaving Italy to join Switzerland, Poland earned a promotion to Alternate Director for the Swiss. And the Swiss have maintained a commitment to providing foreign aid to the impoverished members of their bloc. This should come as no surprise to astute observers of Swiss involvement in international affairs. Some policy-makers are rightfully proud of the service they provide for their constituent countries. As they see it, the great power of holding Directorships at the World Bank and the IMF comes with great responsibility.

The question for emerging market countries is this: do they want to get into the game of putting together powerful blocs? I’m sure, for example, that China could put together a supporting cast of countries that would make it much more powerful than the Italian bloc.

The real question is probably this: do emerging market countries even care? See, Western European countries can play all the games they like to maintain their privileged position in global institutions. But if these institutions don’t reflect economic realities about which countries have real power, they may cease to be relevant. Emerging market countries may not yet have the power to take over the global institutions, but they are beginning to run things at a regional level. And thus they may be more interested in focusing their resources on regional institutions.

I will have a paper about this topic that will be coming out soon - co-authored with Raj Desai. For a preview of our views, click here.

As for the IMF and the World Bank, I refer to what I said in Part 1 of this series: they’re in a bind. If the power of the United States and Western Europe is reduced, these countries may be less likely to approve additional funding for the institutions. But if global governance fails to become more inclusive, emerging markets will (continue to) lose interest.

Perhaps this is the signature of a multipolar world, where no one is strong enough to dominate at the international level – and regional hegemons emerge. If this is so, I think a potential solution for the IMF and World Bank is to recognize the growing strength of regional organizations and find ways to engage and work with them.

The Committees that Rule the World
(Who should lead a multipolar world? Part II)

Every two years, representatives of countries from all over the world gather in Washington, DC to elect two committees that partly rule the world on global economic policy. This year, the meetings are coming right up this weekend: October 8-10.

Usually, these elections just rubber stamp the same old usual suspects who have been running things for decades. But the 2008 Finance Crisis has obvious changes in world order. We are now living in a multipolar world, and the emerging market countries have arrived. This time around, they are going to be looking for a bigger share of global governance.

The committees I’m talking about are the Executive Boards of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, two of the world’s most powerful international organizations. Who controls these institutions? Well, every member-country has some share of the votes, and with 187 countries as members, technically, the IMF and the World Bank are accountable to nearly all of the citizens of the world. But, in reality, the real governance is run by a handful of key countries.

Basically, you’ve got 187 member-countries that elect 24-member Executive Boards (one for the IMF and one for the World Bank). Do each of the 187 countries get one vote? No, no, no – this isn’t the United Nations. Rather, the share of votes is explicitly tied to economic size. So, the mighty United States has the largest share (16.74%), and tiny Tuvalu has the smallest share (0.012%).

But economic weight isn’t the only factor – politics also matter. You see, even though China has just surpassed Japan as the second largest economy in the world, this powerful country has a smaller vote share than France (3.65% vs 4.85%). Yeah, that’s right – France (GDP=$2.7 trillion) has more votes than China (GDP=$4.9 trillion). Think that’s out of whack with reality? How about this? Belgium (GDP=$470 billion) has 2.08% of the votes, but Brazil (GDP=1.6 trillion) has only 1.38% of the votes and India (GDP=$1.2 trillion) has only 1.88% of the votes.

Personally, I think it makes sense that votes reflect economic size. After all, the contributions to the IMF and the World Bank are also tied to economic size. If you give more money, you should get more votes. What’s out of whack is that the votes just don’t reflect current economic realities. Brazil, China, India, Korea,… and the list goes on… are all willing and able to contribute more, but, because this will translate into a smaller share of votes for advanced industrialized countries, like Belgium and France, they drag their feet.

What does it take to change the votes? An 85% supermajority of the current voting structure is required. Yeah, with over 15% of the votes, the United States has veto power, and so do the European Union countries when they coordinate and vote together.

But changing the votes is only part of the problem. In fact, you can be sure that the individual vote shares of the 187 member-countries are going to be revised over the next few days. The United States and the European Union recognize that this needs to change, and it is not news. Emerging market countries have been making small gains for years. So, in 2006, China had only 2.94% of the votes, and now it has 3.65%.

The real question is how these votes translate into seats at the 24-member Executive Board of Directors. Who are these guys? (Yeah, they’re pretty much all guys. See here.) For the answer to this question, and more exciting analysis of global governance, tune in next time at The Vreelander

The IMF Executive Board