Wednesday, June 29, 2011

IMF’s Lagarde

We note with pleasure—the royal we means Brigitte and I—the election of Christine Lagarde to the IMF’s helm. We became aware of her around the time of the economic meltdown in this country in 2008 when, in midst of the chaos, we watched an extended interview with her on television. We sat up in our chairs. Wow, we said! In politics, alas, we are invariably prejudiced in favor of people capable of rational discourse, and this without regard to the position they occupy on the left-right continuum. Lagarde was an advocate of financial bail-outs then, speaking from her position as Minister of Finance and Economy in France under Sarkozy—which was, of course, the rational view of how to preserve the financial system. She wanted to save Lehman Brothers. Brigitte and I favored letting them all collapse, Goldman, AIG, J.P. Morgan, Merrill, the lot. I suppose we’d rather reach the Middle Ages sooner than later, but that is perhaps wishful thinking; and shaking it off, we will listen to reasoned and responsible arguments.

Lagarde, born in 1956, is a thoroughly modern person, Paris-born of academic parents, and a tour de force from childhood forward. She obtained part of her education in the United States at the Holton-Arms college preparatory school in Bethesda, MD, took degrees in law (University of Paris) and in political science (Institute d’études politiques d’Aix-en-Provence). Before she entered politics she worked for the U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie, on whose behalf she founded the European Law Centre, based in Brussels, which specializes in European Union law. Her career in the French political realm includes service as minister of Trade, of Agriculture and Fisheries, and finally a newly created department of Finance and Economy. Her first concern as head of the IMF will be the Euro crisis, a looming melt-down in Greece—which, if it happens, could domino its way to Spain, etc. She is a charming, independent, very hard-working, and very rational woman, with excellent relations world-wide, not least a good friend of Germany’s Angela Merkel. A shadow over her career is a fairly recent out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit against publicly-owed Crédit Lyonnaise. Some in France think that she corruptly gave the suitor, Bernard Tapie, too much money. Until lanced, this boil may still hurt a distinguished career.

Christine Lagarde is also a distinguished athlete—although this is rarely mentioned in news accounts. She was a member of France’s synchronized swimming team.

Brigitte and I wish her well in her new job—yes, this despite having very guarded views of the IMF as an instrument of the capitalist order, etc., etc. In the end you have to go with people. In the right hands even poor instruments can be effective.

Photo courtesy of the Embassy of France in Washington.

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