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Resolving the International Monetary Fund’s Legitimacy Crisis

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Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 the International Monetary Fund (the Fund) has been embroiled in an international crisis of legitimacy. Assertions of a crisis are premised on the notions that the Fund’s voting system is unfair, and that the Fund enforces homogenous policies onto borrowing member states and that loan programs tend to fail. Seen this way, poor institutional and policy design has led to a loss of legitimacy. But institutionalised inequalities or policy failure is not in itself sufficient to constitute an international crisis of legitimacy. This article provides a conceptually-driven discussion of the sources of the Fund’s international crisis of legitimacy by investigating how its formal "foreground" institutional relations with its member states have become strained, and how informal "background" political and economic relationships are expanding in a way that the Fund will find difficult to re-legitimate. The difference between the Fund's claims to legitimacy and how its member states, especially borrowers, act has led to the creation of a "legitimacy gap" that is difficult to close. However, identifying the sources of the Fund's international crisis of legitimacy allows us to explore what avenues are available to resolve the crisis.

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Leonard Seabrooke

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