New Turkish Government Game: IMF-Bashing
I was planning to write on this last week, but better late than ever:
Just before they started bashing the Economist, the government, or at least Econ tzar Babacan, did a small IMF-bashing late last week: First, Erdal Saglam, one of the most “connected”, if not best, economics /business journalists in Turkey wrote in a column (the original is here) that the government was withholding the latest IMF Staff Report on Turkey. Why he wrote it now, I have no clue, as this is an issue that has been going on for several months. In fact, opposition MP (and former Treasury Secretary) Faik Oztrak had mentioned this some time ago and columnists had written about it, including your friendly neighborhood economist, most recently during his discussion of whether Turkish fiscal policy is really contractionary.
So the next day, at the dinner for Society of Economics Journalists (no, I am not a member, as I don’t consider myself a journalist in the first place, but they were sending me emails until recently; I guess they noticed that I am no journalist as well), Babacan was the keynote speaker, and when asked about the Report, he was unusually critical of the Fund. He defended the decision not to publish the Report, noting that it was a subjective report written by rookie economists on the Turkish economy and that it was a “right” of the government not to approve its publication.
IMF-bashing before elections, or IMF-bashing in general, is a popular developing country/ emerging market activity. You have to undertake politically difficult measures like expenditure cuts; put the blame on the evil IMF. In fact, we had a Central Bank Deputy Governor who told a young Fund economist to go to the Ankara zoo and watch the animals there- the gentleman in question says that he did it after four glasses of vodka, but having known his reputation for drinking, I am sure he was not drunk at all:). Anyway, I should not digress: The fact of the matter is that there is not much point in IMF-bashing nowadays. Turkey does not have a program with the Fund, and the public just doesn’t care about what is going on with the Fund, as I politely explained to IMF economists during the lunch after my Koc University discussion. Contrast this to a decade ago, when Turkey desk chief Carlo Cottarelli was a local celebrity. So I am thinking that Babacan could have easily dodged the question, or at least given an ambiguous answer instead of an unnecessarily harsh reaction.
But all this is putting me into PSD, i.e. post-elections stress disorder: I was really looking forward to the elections, with hopes that the Report was being withheld temporarily, and that it would be released after the elections. Now, I am not so sure, especially after Babacan boasted, at the same meeting, that they had decided to withhold four or five IMF reports in the last decade. As for whether I agree with his views on IMF economists, let me start by quoting my friends at GlobalSource from their latest weekly report:
Coming from a credible figure like Mr. Babacan this was a very sad thing to hear to say the least, because it can’t be true: IMF reports are not written by “a few people unfamiliar to Turkey” but rather by a team of highly qualified economists that monitor Turkey as closely as anybody else. Further, reports are endorsed after a tedious internal review process at the IMF. Finally, we’ve known the IMF teams that worked on Turkey since time immemorial, and don’t recall a single episode where we would agree with Minister Babacan’s harsh criticism.
My own experience with the IMF Turkey desk, although much less than my more illustrious Atilla and Murat “abi”s (big brothers), is nevertheless the same. That’s all I have to say about that!
Now, all the foreign journalists I interview with can attest to that I am really your friendly neighborhood economist; i.e. I really go out of my way to help out. And this time will be no different: To help out all the economics journalists, Turkish and gavur/ecnebi alike, following the Turkish economy, I will summarize the Staff Report in next week’s Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review column, which will also posted here.
BTW, I think the new game is not IMF-bashing: It is more gavur/ecnebi bashing: I was told, by a gavur/ecnebi economist friend, that the PM was recently critical of credit ratings agencies, right after Moody’s issued a warning on the Turkish current account. So I guess the idea is this: If someone criticizes you, whether it be politics or economics, just strike back; the best offense is defense! You just have to wait until Monday to find out what the Fund was critical of to get the government’s arrows…
3 Responses to “New Turkish Government Game: IMF-Bashing”
[...] Emre Deliveli.) And like Fidesz, IMF-bashing has been popular with the AKP government (See The Kapali Carsi by Emre [...]
Thanks for the quote, and I am glad I noticed your blog in the process:)… The interesting thing about Turkish IMF-bashing is that it is much less necessary than Hungary's. We don't have an IMF program, and IMF is not an issue at all….
BTW, the hyperlink to the fiscal rule right before is not by me, although I has written about the fiscal rule as well:
All the best,
The Turkish Political Game
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