Commentary: Fischer felled by politics, not age

The IMF changes its regulations as fast as its officials change their silk ties.

By STELLA KORIN-LIEBER / GLOBES
June 15, 2011 06:27
2 minute read.
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer

stanley fischer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer was not disqualified because of his age – he fell to political machinations. The IMF changes its regulations as fast as its officials change their silk ties. Had the Europeans wanted to pull back from their parochial interests, and appoint as the next director general of the IMF a person who is said to be the best man for the job, they would have amended the regulation limiting the director’s age with a flick of their wrists and allowed Fischer to run for the job. He might even have won it.

But Monday night’s announcement was unequivocal: Mr. Fischer, the most important thing for us is to see a candidate younger than 65, not a man who has celebrated 67 birthdays.

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Those who wanted Fischer to head the IMF reiterated that not only do its regulations change fast, but that the age restriction was set over 20 year ago, when a string of health problems affected its top officials. The age restriction is not legally binding, since the IMF is based in the US, which has no mandated retirement age. Clauses relating to gender, color, religion or age are no longer disqualifiers, especially when the candidate is the best person for the job.

To Fischer’s credit, he knew that this was a gamble. He knew about the age restriction perfectly well, and he was prepared to bet on his ego and did not fear embarrassment if he was not elected. He wanted to win, but he wasn’t afraid to lose.

Fischer hesitated until Friday night, when two much-discussed but not prominent names dropped out of the race. Since the IMF said it would consider only three finalists, there was a vacant spot alongside French Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde and Bank of Mexico Governor Augustin Carstens. A few hours later, on Saturday morning, Fischer announced his candidacy.

Fischer knew what every economist, politician, commentator and professional knows: that he was the best man to head the IMF because of his proven knowledge, experience and expertise, which are unquestionably suited for such difficult times. He also knew that the issue of age was fixable. He did not know how strong the European interest to head the IMF was, how much pressure European leaders could apply on other voting countries, or how much the Americans wanted to avoid a spat with the Europeans over the job, so that they can keep the top post of the World Bank for themselves.

Fischer was disqualified. The IMF is left with a Mexican man and Frenchwoman as candidates. Lagarde is waiting for a decision on the legality and possible impropriety of her involvement in a scandal involving French billionaire Bernard Tapie, an associate of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Fischer will stay in Israel, to the joy of many. He will fulfill his job with pride and dedication, as he has said. But the time will come, in view of the praise heaped on him in this race, when another door will open in the wider world, and he will again become a global star. That means offers; it means that one day soon, he will not be in Israel and we should get ready for the day after.


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