A leading economist believes the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is "manipulating" the financial troubles of emerging and low-income nations to grab more capital for itself, and to keep the nearly defunct global lending bureaucracy alive for years to come.
According to economist Judy Shelton, whose remarks were published in The Wall Street Journal, the IMF has been stealthily moving to secure its own survival by seeking permission to engage in gold sales.
IMF officials indicate that the receipts of those sales would be employed to help poor countries.
But, Shelton argues, "the real objective" of bureaucrats at the Washington D.C. institution is to set up a "permanent endowment fund" for the IMF.
The IMF was created in the aftermath of World War II by the allied victors. Its member countries contribute and, technically, own its assets.
"The U.S. should not replenish the coffers of a multilateral bureaucracy that quite literally lost its reason for being on Aug. 15, 1971 — the day President Richard Nixon closed the gold window and brought an end to the Bretton Woods agreement, which allowed countries to convert their dollar holdings, via the IMF, into gold at a fixed price," writes Shelton.
"Instead, Congress should call for the IMF's dismantlement and restitution of its assets."
The most lucrative asset held by the IMF is gold. It currently reports holding 3,217 metric tons (103.4 million ounces), which makes it the world's third-largest holder. The IMF holds gold on behalf of its member nations.
"The IMF is now seeking to sell a considerable chunk of those gold holdings — some 12.9 million ounces — which it insists are exempt from restitution to members in the event of IMF liquidation," writes Shelton.
Starting in December 1999, in order to fund its Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, the IMF arranged to sell gold which it held on its books at a price of roughly $50 to two member countries, Brazil and Mexico, at the market price of $355.
"It put the profits of close to $4 billion in a special HIPC account; simultaneously, the IMF accepted back the gold sold to Brazil and Mexico in settlement of their financial obligations of that amount," Shelton says.
The balance of IMF holdings of physical gold was thus left unchanged, although the fund took in the substantial difference between the gold's market price and its book value.
"The IMF asserts a propriety claim over the 12.9 million ounces it 'acquired' through these transactions," writes Shelton.
"Unfortunately, artful accounting has become the IMF's defining characteristic."
The IMF is attempting a flanking move on the U.S. Congress, as it stealthily plans to sell gold, most likely to China.
"Why does the IMF need the money? Just three years ago, the bloated organization -- half of its 2,600 staff are economists -- was nearly defunct," writes Shelton.
Two years ago, a specially convened panel of "eminent persons" suggested that the IMF sell those 12.9 million ounces of gold and set up a trust fund with the windfall profits. The investment returns could plug the gap between its administrative expenditures and the amount it earns as an intermediary that channels funds from rich countries to poor countries.
And, of course, keep the IMF around forever.
At the G-20 summit recently, President Obama bought into the idea of expanding IMF's reach, according to published reports. Bracing for the impact of the global economic crisis, its member countries pledged billions to the fund, rather than new stimulus spending or inter-country loans, as some of the hardest-hit countries had requested.
According to Barron's, many other investors, not just the IMF, are eying gold now, too, out of concern that inflation may be in the offing after the prodigious spending programs of the new American president passed by the U.S. Congress.
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