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WTF is Christine Lagarde up to? – POLITICO

WTF is Christine Lagarde up to? – POLITICO
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What does she do for fun? She rarely reads for pleasure. Nobody interviewed by POLITICO has ever seen her read a book, or anything that isn’t a policy briefing. She has scant time, understandably, for the pursuit of hobbies. She does enjoy making jam, in July, for her family, and she is prone to the odd round of golf with the central bankers. She used to swim regularly but now not as often, constrained as she is by an intense work schedule. In terms of world-view, those who know her deduce that if she believes in anything she’s a centrist, or vaguely center-right. But most stop short at “pragmatic.”

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Unlike many of the technocrats she finds herself surrounded by, however, she is a charming chancer and a skilled communicator. She possesses an uncanny, Forrest-Gump-like predisposition for finding the driving beat of history — and if not exactly seizing it, surviving it. 

From the outset, she enjoyed a near-vertical trajectory, rising from the depths of suburban Normandy to lead the major Chicago law firm Baker McKenzie, where she wooed colleagues and the international business elite alike. (“She is perhaps the nicest person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” said former Baker colleague Marc Levey.) At a time of peak globalization, the firm helped big upstart firms like Dell break into Europe, and by 2005 her growing prominence had landed her in an unelected role in French politics. As finance minister, she wrestled with the financial crisis, professed undying allegiance to Nicolas Sarkozy (“Use me for as long as it suits you,” she wrote the then French president) and was later convicted for “negligence” in a sordid affaire involving payments of public funds to a billionaire businessman — but escaped punishment when the judge took pity on her. (“She acted on orders,” a former political colleague told the Guardian newspaper. “She has done nothing wrong in her life.“)

With uncommon ease, Lagarde remained at the ever-changing forefront of establishment consensus, a quasi-ceremonial, Elizabeth II-like figure who was perceived as an effective steward but was nevertheless often constrained by circumstance from exercising any real power. Consider her time as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the venerable, 77-year-old institution that lends out money, often on harsh terms, to indebted countries when nobody else will. She joined the IMF in 2011. It was a dark time — the height of the eurozone crisis. Greece was the unhappy protagonist, forced to near-fatally gut its public spending at the behest of its Franco-German creditors after a decade-long spending binge, the effects of which it masked by manipulating its official data.

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As part of the French government, Lagarde, in line with the prevailing consensus, had resisted the IMF’s involvement. But when the fund’s chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was arrested on sexual assault charges in New York, she leaped for the top job. She embarked on a glitzy world tour, schmoozed China and split the Latin American vote, handily beating her rival, the distinguished Mexican central banker Agustín Carstens. Given the trashed reputation of her predecessor — and in spite of previous assurances that the Europeans would cede control to the emerging economies who were now among their creditors — it was a sleek, if ultimately predictable, victory.

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Once in office, however, she was rarely more than an elegant middle manager, readily admitting that she was not the one making the big decisions. Neither, she admitted, was she much of an economist — her own chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, likened her, with warmth, to a “first-year undergraduate.” “I’ll try to be a good conductor,” Lagarde said upon joining. “And, you know, without being too poetic about it, not all conductors know how to play the piano, the harp, the violin, or the cello.” She was principally an informed mediator who would sway but not dictate, there to build consensus among the nation-states represented on the IMF’s board — which in practice, according to some, meant winning acceptance for whatever decision the Europeans and U.S. had already made beforehand.





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