Afternoon Must-Read: Carola Binder: Thoughts on the Fed's New Labor Market Conditions Index
Afternoon Must-Read: Aaron Carroll: More on the Social Contract and health care reform

Afternoon Must-Read: Gillian Tett: A Peek into the IMF Machine

Gillian Tett: A peek into the IMF machine: "Liaquat Ahamed, a Washington-based fund manager turned writer...

...flew to Tokyo to participate in the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund.... Ahamed was not lobbying for policies, cutting business deals or reporting. Instead, for a few days he observed the IMF circus as if he were an ethnographer plunged into a strange tribe... A monograph, Money and Tough Love: On Tour with the IMF, are not just hilarious but shrewdly provocative.... Ahamed lifts the lid on seemingly irrelevant details about the fabric and rhythm of IMF life and on the myriad subtle cultural symbols that are used to signal hierarchy, tribal affiliation and power--and which the IMF economists themselves almost never talk about. Ahamed describes, for example, the dress code patterns, noting that:

the men [at IMF meetings are] uniformly dressed in dark suits and ties, apart, that is, for two groups: the Iranians, who have this odd habit of buttoning up their collars but refusing to wear ties, and the hedge fund managers, who [are] young, fit and wear designer suits... [they] no doubt refuse to wear ties for much the same reason as the Iranians--to signal their rather self-conscious freedom from arbitrary social conventions.

He also tries to explain how policy ideas emerge to dominate the debate--via media platforms.... A serious point. Although policy makers and economists might like to pretend that international governance is all about abstract ideas or quantitative models, it is actually rooted in complex cultural patterns and languages that outsiders struggle to understand. That is no surprise; all institutions have such traits. But I just hope that the experiment that Ahamed has started will now open the door to other ethnographic accounts of how our huge cross-border bureaucracies really work--not simply to spark more reflection among voters but also among the staff of groups such as the IMF too...