STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Experts from elsewhere in the world are suggesting that maybe the United States could use some financial advice. Some former finance ministers met last week. They did not know how bad things would get on Wall Street this past weekend, but they did know about more than a year of disastrous news in the credit market, including the takeovers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And the ministers politely suggest it might help the U.S. to listen to people overseas. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: The meeting took place at the University of Virginia in the grand, domed building where Thomas Jefferson once kept his library. Everyone was fairly cordial given the fact that the U.S. crisis had threatened to crash the global economy. One little suggestion did come up, and that was that the U.S. should maybe get a kind of financial check-up by the International Monetary Fund. Now, the IMF is a place you go when you're in real trouble, like Argentina was. It functions as a kind of global loan shark. You get money, but with a lot of strings attached. And it also gives advice.
Mr. YASHWANT SINHA (Former Indian Finance Minister): I think a time has come now after the crisis here that U.S. should also accept some monitoring by the IMF.
KESTENBAUM: Yashwant Sinha used to be the finance minister of India. On the one hand, the assessment he's talking about isn't a big deal. A bunch of experts come to your country, do interviews, look at the numbers, then write a report. But symbolically, this is a big deal. Sinha says the U.S. has a history of giving advice to other countries about how to run their economies. It hasn't always been so good at listening. But he thinks it needs to.
Mr. SINHA: The U.S. economy is the largest in the world, and anything that happens in the U.S. or to the U.S. economy has worldwide repercussions. So there are - many countries will suffer for no fault of their own.
KESTENBAUM: I called the U.S. Treasury Department, and it turns out that the U.S. actually has now agreed to get a stability assessment from the IMF. The announcement just didn't get a lot of attention. The International Monetary Fund says it expects to get to work in the next couple months. Rodrigo de Rato is former finance minister of Spain and former head of the IMF. He says lots of countries have gone through the assessment, not just poor ones.
Mr. RODRIGO DE RATO (Former Spanish Finance Minister; Former Managing Director, International Monetary Fund): Spain has gone through it. Italy has gone through it. The U.K. has gone through it. India has gone through it. Korea has gone through it. I mean, just to put you examples.
KESTENBAUM: The review is specifically designed to look at a country's financial system, find weak spots, and look at how risks are being managed, the very problems at the root of the current crisis.
Mr. DE RATO: And I think it will be a very good idea. It will allow the discussion of issues that maybe are politically sensitive, and it also will give a sense of evenhandedness in the rest of the world.
KESTENBAUM: As to whether this kind of check-up might have somehow put the breaks on the mortgage catastrophe, Yashwant Sinha from India said he thought it could have provided an additional warning. But I caught up with John Snow, the former U.S. Treasury secretary, who was pretty doubtful.
Mr. JOHN SNOW (Former Treasury Secretary): The IMF has no particular expertise in determining whether or not lending practices in the United States are appropriate or not. And does anybody think that if we'd had 15 more Ph.D.s at the IMF, we'd have stopped this process, you know, we'd caught it? Fairly dubious. Hey, thanks, I'd better run.
KESTENBAUM: All this talk about the IMF seemed like it was really about something else: fairness, or the changing place of the U.S. in the world economy, or maybe just frustration that the crisis had happened at all. As one participant put it, I think even my 6-year-old daughter knows that you don't lend money to people who can't pay you back. David Kestenbaum, NPR News.
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