IMF Leadership Struggle and CGD Survey Results: Nancy Birdsall

The sudden resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has sparked a global debate over the selection of the next head of the International Monetary Fund. French finance minister Christine Legarde, Europe’s nominee, has launched a round-the-world tour to promote her candidacy. Meanwhile, Agustin Carstins, the governor of the Bank of Mexico and the lone challenger so far to Europe’s renewed claim to lead the IMF, is seeking backing from European debtor nations and others by calling for greater flexibility in IMF bailout programs.

Against this background, CGD is pushing ahead with a survey on the selection process, qualifications and candidates for the IMF top job. I asked CGD president Nancy Birdsall, who has been arguing for a more open, merit-based selection process without regard for nationality, to join me on the show to share her views on the IMF leadership selection battle and the initial results from our survey.

I began by noting the contrast between the public calls for an open, merit-based selection process in the current IMF battle and the situation in 2007, when we conducted a similar survey in connection with an unexpected leadership succession at the World Bank.

Although the 2007 survey found a strong consensus in the international community in favor of an open, merit-based selection process, calls for such reforms were mostly confined to non-official circles, such as think tanks and NGOs. This time, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the “BRICS”) issued a joint statement urging an end to the “obsolete unwritten convention that requires that the head of the IMF be necessarily from Europe.”

“These are symptoms of changes in the world…the emerging markets are the ones that are growing,” says Nancy. “There is a general recognition that what those countries do matters more for the rest of the world. They need a seat at the table.”

Nancy says that the initial response to the survey—some 400 people have taken it so far—shows an overwhelming majority opposed to the preservation of the Europe-centric status quo, and a similarly lopsided majority—roughly nine-out-of-ten respondents, supporting an open, merit-based competition “without regard to nationality.” 

Respondents also expressed support for two selection system innovations: double majority voting (e.g. requiring a majority of weighted votes on the board and a majority of countries) and the establishment of a standing committee of eminent persons to vet and nominate a short list of candidates for board consideration. Nancy explains why these approaches would strengthen the leadership selection process and increase the legitimacy of the IMF.

As for qualifications, “large majorities see the logic of having high level international organizational experience, being an effective manager, and having some experience managing international crisis as well,” says Nancy.

At the end we turn to the horserace. Nancy walks me through the crowded field of potential candidates mentioned in the press and included on our survey, noting that there is no lack of qualified contenders from outside of Europe—indeed, they account for the majority of the 15 people in our survey.

Kemal Dervis, former head of the United Nations Development Program and World Bank vice president, typically scores best, but since we posted the survey he said he would not run for the IMF top job. Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel who previously served as No. 2 at the IMF, also scores extremely well, but has not been nominated and is probably a non-starter for reasons related to the politics of the Middle East.  Legarde and Carstens, the only two official nominees, both score reasonably well across various qualifications but are rarely top the list on any specific qualification.

To see detailed results, take the survey now.  It’s not too late to have your voice be counted.

Listen to the wonkcast to hear more from Nancy on search for the next IMF managing director.

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week. My thanks to Will McKitterick for his production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for assistance in drafting this blog post.