Bodo Ellmers, Guest Blogger
The creditor community has another shock and awe moment this week, as more and more influential actors argue that Greece should stop repaying the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and instead use scarce public resources to tackle its economic and humanitarian crisis. While Prime Minister Tsipras still tries to ease the creditors, the idea is here to stay. And it is a good one: Greece should not just postpone loan repayments but default on them – stopping payments to the IMF for good. This would help to finally reform the IMF from the political puppet that it is now into a real and effective crisis response instrument.
Risk-free lending can quickly become irresponsible lending
Whoever loses in a debt crisis – and usually there are many losers – the IMF is always off the hook. It is common practice that borrowers grant preferred creditor status to the IMF, and pay off the IMF loans in full and in a timely manner. While it isn’t written down anywhere in international law that there’s such a thing as an IMF preferred creditor status – not even in the IMF’s own Articles of Agreements – all countries traditionally stick to this practice. This even goes for countries such as Argentina, which have been branded recalcitrant debtors by US judges and have no intention of maintaining good relations with the IMF.
Repaying the IMF often comes at high opportunity costs for borrower countries’ development, and for the other creditors who do have to take a haircut, and a larger one if the IMF does not participate in a debt restructuring. The fact that everyone’s repaying the IMF means that lending is essentially risk-free for them. And as in all other cases when lending is considered risk-free, the lender is encouraged to act irresponsibly, and to do really stupid things.