I embarked on this project five years ago not with the intention of providing policy guidance but simply to study the influence of an important international institution that seemed to me poorly understood by the scholarly community. At the time, the International Monetary Fund (IMF, or simply the Fund) was a likely focus for academic conferences but not for congressional hearings or street protests in Washington. Most of the undergraduates I taught had no idea what the IMF was until they took my course, nor could they have distinguished it easily from the rest of the alphabetical flotsam that clutters syllabi in international political economy, such as WTO, IBRD, ECB, OECD–all of which are important institutions in their own right, of course. East Europeans, on the other hand, along with citizens of developing countries, recognized the significance of my topic immediately. Indeed, in the course of my travels across the region I have often been asked which agency I worked for: the IMF or the CIA?1 The IMF quickly lost its obscurity in the United States, largely as a result of the events related in this book. Subsequently, I have been asked to address Sunday school classes, groups of concerned students, and gatherings of officials in Washington and Moscow. I have discovered some important things, and they are relevant to the practical concerns of churchgoers, students, and policymakers, but this is not primarily a book of policy advice. This is a work of political science, and its objective is to train the best tools available to social science on an important substantive question in order to see what we can learn in the process.
It is not easy to write about the IMF without taking sides. When I mention at Washington cocktail parties that I am writing a book about the IMF and the post-Communist transition, I am invariably asked the question, “Are you for or against?” My standard reply is that I am in favor: I think the post-Communist transition was a pretty good idea. Flip rejoinders aside, my position on the IMF is more supportive than critical on balance, and I hope that, as devastating as my criticisms may seem, they will be seen in time as constructive. I believe that both the extreme Right and the extreme Left are fundamentally mistaken about the IMF. It is neither simply an example of the abuses of big government, nor simply the executive committee of international finance that represses efforts to ameliorate the situation of the poor. In principle, the IMF has an important role to play in improving government policy, which can greatly improve the____________________