MONEY AND TOUGH LOVE
Liaquat Ahamed, Visual Editions; 208 pages; $40
The International Monetary Fund is the most powerful financial institution on the planet, capable of dictating economic policy to governments. Liaquat Ahamed is the author of a bestselling portrait of central banking in the Great Depression, “Lords of Finance.”
Putting the two together ought to be a match made in heaven.
Sadly, the result is a rather bland book replete with photographs that are about as exciting as one would expect pictures of IMF officials and meetings to be. As Ahamed admits, the IMF gave him permission to follow them around because he was “unlikely to be a troublemaker.” Ahamed has no real dirt to dish; he clearly admires the work the fund does and believes in the dedication of its workforce.
What he does possess is a thorough knowledge of economic history, and those who want a general idea of the IMF’s activities will find this book a useful primer.
The fund has taken a lot of criticism over the years, notably for its handling of the Asian crisis in the late 1990s and for its more recent about-face on the effectiveness of austerity. As Ahamed explains, its staff treats their unpopularity in some parts of the world “almost as a badge of honor, seeing themselves as economic doctors willing to prescribe harsh but necessary medicine.”
A more critical author might have conducted a forensic examination of that case. Should unelected bureaucrats have so much power when economics is such an inexact science? But then a harsher critic would not have been given the access to write this book.