What Blanchard learned was that to prevail in a large, entrenched bureaucracy such as the IMF, being the best economist, presenting the best argument or the most compelling data, was not enough to win the day — you also needed allies. He began meeting regularly and informally with directors and staff in other departments, along with influential members of the IMF’s board of directors, in an attempt to win converts for his less orthodox policy ideas.
Under Blanchard, the research department gained a seat at the table where IMF decisions were made. Strauss-Kahn said that at his meetings with top lieutenants, Blanchard “very quickly took the lead, and his opinion prevailed eight out of 10 times.”
In his own shop, Blanchard pushed the 100 staff economists to be less academic and focus their research on questions of immediate concern, with answers to be delivered in a month, a week or even over the weekend. By all accounts, he raised the bar on the quality of IMF research, demanding more rigor in the analysis, along with greater clarity. When one of his colleagues hit a dead end, Blanchard was not above taking out pencil and paper and spending an evening writing out a mathematical model — not the kind of thing research directors traditionally do.
For an academic who had spent a career searching for economic truth, having to reconcile the supposedly scientific insights of economics with political and bureaucratic realities proved even more challenging than Blanchard had anticipated. What he found most surprising, he said during a relaxing moment on Re, was how quickly a consensus can develop around some question on the basis of what decision-makers read in the press or hear over dinner. People on the outside, he said, have no idea how much time and energy is spent responding to or anticipating the reaction of the media and critics.
“There’s a big risk of people agreeing on something without thinking about it or doing the hard analysis,” he said. In the face of incomplete information and genuine uncertainty, he said, it was disquieting “how easily bad ideas become entrenched.”
“It’s a strange process,” he mused, but one he is likely to miss.
In a profession in which reputations are made by mastering subjects that have become increasingly narrow and technical, the variety of topics Blanchard has studied and written about is extraordinary. Indeed, it is because of that breadth that Blanchard acknowledges he is unlikely to win a Nobel Prize. “I did not fundamentally change our view about anything,” he said, wistfully but with no sign of regret. “I tried to provide useful insights on many things rather than obsessing about one.”
A few days later, perhaps thinking of that exchange, Blanchard sent an e-mail saying that he had been rereading a book written by his psychiatrist mother and came across a sentence that she had written about her work that summed up his own approach to economics:
“I am not a guru or a magician. I think of myself as an artisan.”
一昨日と昨日のエントリで紹介したSteven PearlsteinによるWaPo記事では、「IMFが完全に新規の一連の考えに門戸を開く上で、オリビエは重要な役割を果たした（“Olivier’s played an important role in opening up the Fund to a whole new set of ideas.”）」というスティグリッツの言葉が紹介されている。そうした新規の考え方として記事では、資本規制、格差と経済成長の関係、4％のインフレ目標、および反緊縮策を挙げている*1。
In early 2010, the research department began churning out studies showing the dangers created by hot-money flows and cataloguing successful experiments to control them. Although labeled “staff discussion notes,” such studies are often viewed as statements of Fund policy, and publishing them required the acquiescence of other, more powerful departments that were also staffed by economists who didn’t appreciate the interference on their turf.
“At times, it was like trench warfare,” Blanchard said of the bureaucratic wrangling over capital controls. “It was exhausting.” In the end, the IMF declared that a country might consider capital controls, but only after it has tried a dozen other strategies — and even then only if they were drawn so as not to favor domestic investors over foreign ones. But within the Fund it was an early, if partial, victory for Blanchard. The Fund would eventually lend its imprimatur to capital controls in Brazil, Iceland and Cyprus.
Blanchard was initially skeptical of the preliminary analysis showing that countries with more inequality experienced slower growth. He worried that the correlation was too weak, or too dependent on a handful of unusual cases, and he suspected that it was just as likely that slow growth caused inequality as the other way around.
It took several years to persuade him, but Blanchard finally signed off on a paper concluding that inequality was an important factor in economic growth rates, with high levels of inequality resulting in growth that is likely to be “low and unsustainable.” The researchers also found no evidence that the level of government redistribution typically found in Europe or North America had any adverse impact on growth rates. Now widely cited and often downloaded, the paper has become the touchstone for what Jonathan Ostry, its lead author, only half-jokingly calls the “kinder, gentler IMF.”
Meanwhile, Blanchard had raised eyebrows when he suggested that the Federal Reserve and other central banks aim for inflation rates of 4 percent rather than the 2 percent target now commonly used. ...
“There’s nothing scientific about 2 percent,” Blanchard said. “It comes from nowhere. It’s completely made up.” Although academic economists have been intrigued, central bankers have not been rushing to pick up on his very Keynesian idea.
Blanchard, in fact, had once defended the idea of “expansionary austerity,” but he limited it to circumstances in which previous governments had been reckless in their spending and now presented credible plans for reining it in. But such conditions did not apply to Britain, Germany and the United States. So beginning in 2011, Blanchard’s research department began churning out a series of studies showing that, in most advanced countries, fiscal austerity was a bad idea.
...Jean-Claude Trichet and his colleagues at the European Central Bank remained insistent that forcing investors to take a “haircut” on their Greek bonds would trigger panic selling of the bonds of Italy, Spain and Portugal.
The IMF agreed finally to participate in the initial 110 billion-euro Greek rescue that Blanchard and many of its officials believed was doomed to fail. To justify its own loan of 30 billion euros, the IMF had to argue that the structural reforms being required of the government — deregulation of labor and product markets, an overhaul of the pension and tax collection systems, the sale of government-owned monopolies — would provide such an immediate boost to the Greek economy that they would offset the negative effect of budget cuts in government spending equal to 10 percent of GDP. The official forecast of a short, mild recession was so improbable that few inside or outside the Fund really believed it.
Strauss-Kahn’s replacement was Lagarde, who in her previous role as French finance minister had vigorously opposed any consideration of debt restructuring. As a non-economist, she came to rely heavily on Blanchard’s advice and soon became a convert to the cause of Greek debt relief. The following year, a restructuring was announced that cut the value of outstanding Greek bonds by more than half.
Unfortunately, it proved to be too little, too late. ...And once again, Europe offered another loan package requiring continued austerity without any debt restructuring.
Only this time, the IMF refused to go along. In June, Blanchard used a blog post to declare that no rescue would succeed unless Greece was granted additional debt relief in the form of lower interest rates and a lengthy moratorium on repayments. The following month, an IMF review of the Greek program criticized the government for failing to make good on its promises of structural reform but acknowledged that the imposed austerity had been overly harsh, that the forecasts had been overly optimistic and that Greek debt was now unsustainably high. In August, Lagarde confirmed that the IMF would not participate in the new round of funding unless it was accompanied by substantial debt relief. New talks have begun, and the betting now is that some sort of restructuring is inevitable.
As crucial as debt relief may be, however, it will not be a silver bullet. Defending the IMF’s handling of Greece, Blanchard warned in the blog post that even if all of its debts were wiped out — an unlikely scenario — the Greek government would continue to run significant deficits requiring fresh loans that nobody is willing to provide without a credible and enforceable plan to restructure its economy and bring the budget into balance.
The IMF had convinced Irish officials that, as part of any rescue package, those who had lent money to the banks should be forced to share in the pain. But Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank and a key player in any rescue plan, was adamant that there be no “haircuts” for bank creditors.
Trichet’s motivation was not surprising. The biggest creditors of the bankrupt Irish banks were French and German banks that themselves could go under if forced to recognize such losses, requiring costly and unpopular bailouts from their own governments. He also feared that any debt restructuring, as it is politely called, might make it difficult and more expensive for other European banks to borrow. Trichet went so far as to threaten to cut all central-bank lending to Irish banks if their debts were restructured, the equivalent of a death sentence for the Irish banking system.
With no other options, Ireland agreed to guarantee all of its banks’ debts, paying for it with a $67 billion international loan package whose harsh terms would drive the Irish economy into a deep recession and saddle a generation of Irish taxpayers with the full cost of repayment.
Strauss-Kahn, desperate for the Fund to play a visible role in the crisis, agreed to go along with the terms of the bailout. In rationalizing its participation, the Fund was forced to issue what Blanchard and his colleagues knew were unrealistically optimistic predictions about the quick recovery of the Irish economy. It would not be the only time the Fund would buckle to political pressure from European governments that are among its largest shareholders.
“We were in a difficult position calling attention to the fact that the European banking system may have been insolvent,” Strauss-Kahn said in an interview from Morocco. “It was not our job to cause bank runs. Olivier’s intellectual authority on that matter was particularly helpful, if not totally successful.”