International Monetary Fund

Globalization and the Crisis (2005 - present)

Optical fiber plant in Nanjing, China: World trade has expanded dramatically in recent years

Optical fiber plant in Nanjing, China: World trade has expanded dramatically in recent years

Lessons from a Time of Crisis

The IMF has been on the front lines of lending to countries to help boost the global economy as it suffers from a deep crisis not seen since the Great Depression.

For most of the first decade of the 21st century, international capital flows fueled a global expansion that enabled many countries to repay money they had borrowed from the IMF and other official creditors and to accumulate foreign exchange reserves.

The global economic crisis that began with the collapse of mortgage lending in the United States in 2007, and spread around the world in 2008 was preceded by large imbalances in global capital flows.

Global capital flows fluctuated between 2 and 6 percent of world GDP during 1980-95, but since then they have risen to 15 percent of GDP. In 2006, they totaled $7.2 trillion—more than a tripling since 1995. The most rapid increase has been experienced by advanced economies, but emerging markets and developing countries have also become more financially integrated.

The founders of the Bretton Woods system had taken it for granted that private capital flows would never again resume the prominent role they had in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the IMF had traditionally lent to members facing current account difficulties.

The latest global crisis uncovered a fragility in the advanced financial markets that soon led to the worst global downturn since the Great Depression. Suddenly, the IMF was inundated with requests for stand-by arrangements and other forms of financial and policy support.

The international community recognized that the IMF’s financial resources were as important as ever and were likely to be stretched thin before the crisis was over. With broad support from creditor countries, the Fund’s lending capacity was tripled to around $750 billion. To use those funds effectively, the IMF overhauled its lending policies, including by creating a flexible credit line for countries with strong economic fundamentals and a track record of successful policy implementation. Other reforms, including ones tailored to help low-income countries, enabled the IMF to disburse very large sums quickly, based on the needs of borrowing countries and not tightly constrained by quotas, as in the past.

For more on the ideas that have shaped the IMF from its inception until the late 1990s, take a look at James Boughton's "The IMF and the Force of History: Ten Events and Ten Ideas that Have Shaped the Institution."