IMF Tells Its Economists to Cut Working Papers, Focus on Virus
(Bloomberg) -- The International Monetary Fund recently told its economists to cut back on independent research to focus the organization’s full resources and budget on the core mission of helping countries deal with the challenges of the pandemic, according to four people familiar with the message.
Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told staff in January that they should do less of the research -- called working papers -- given the heavy workload needed to help countries confront Covid-19 and its economic impact, according to the people, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
“Our member countries are facing an unprecedented crisis and the IMF and its staff have stepped up in an unprecedented way,” spokesman Gerry Rice said in an emailed response to questions.
“This has led to increasingly heavy demand, workload, and risk of staff burn-out,” he said. Georgieva “suggested we might look for ways to prioritize our efforts even more -- and even as we maintain the depth of research and independent thinking that is one of the IMF’s fundamental strengths. This would help to reduce the burden on staff and enable us to respond even more effectively to our members.”
The directive came after the IMF, which has kept its own structural budget flat in real terms for a decade, received a record number of requests for emergency borrowing since last March due to the pandemic. The IMF approved more than $100 billion in funding for 85 of its 190 member countries. Georgieva has mentioned publicly how fund staff were working harder than ever before to deal with the crisis.
The IMF typically releases about 300 working papers each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity and national and international economic developments. The views expressed are those of the authors and don’t necessarily represent the views of the fund, which has led some IMF board members to question their necessity and recommend to management to pare them back, the people said.
The concern among some staff is that should the IMF’s more than 1,000 economists cut back on working papers for an extended time, the fund may stifle the creative process and social-science discovery that can lead to new and more effective policy, the people said. Space for independent work, whether at the IMF, the Federal Reserve or any other economic institution with a research focus, also is often considered an attraction of the job that helps to recruit employees, said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
“There’s a value to that kind of intellectual work going on within the institution,” Morris said. “They do need to attract economic talent, and it’s just a lot less appealing to work within an institution where you’re not able to exercise the full range of your research capabilities and have some autonomy. So I can imagine that those who would like to protect this would have that in mind.”
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