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Is the fix in at the IMF?

Today's big story on the race to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the IMF is that Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer was disqualified on account of his age -- he's 67 -- setting up a contest between French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Bank of Mexico Governor Agustín Carstens. While nationality has certainly been a factor in the IMF race so far, age hasn't been much discussed, though India's candidate for the job, the 68-year-old Montek Singh Ahluwalia, was reportedly ruled out for the same reason. 

The age limit does indeed appear in the IMF's by-laws: 

[N]o person shall be initially appointed to the post of Managing Director after he has reached his sixty-fifth birthday and ... no Managing Director shall hold such post beyond his seventieth birthday.

A maximum age for a job of this type seems a bit bizarre. No one seems to mind that Ban Ki-moon, who is currently seeking reelection as U.N. Secretary General, is 65. James Wolfensohn led the World Bank when he was in his 70s. I asked Political Scientist Miles Kahler, author Leadership Selection in the Major Multilaterals, if there was precedent for a candidate being disqualified on this basis: 

A working group to reform the selection process at the Bank and Fund, which reported a decade ago, recommended that there be no age limit (which matches the trend in most countries for senior positions).  That recommendation was not implemented, and the by-laws remain unchanged. [...]

No other candidates have been disqualified because of age, so far as I know.  I am not sure whether age was simply an excuse on the part of the Executive Board to remove a "wild card" candidate. You will recall that Fischer was a very popular candidate among the developing countries during the 2000 selection; the Clinton Administration ultimately decided not to back him against the German candidate.  He is a truly multinational candidate:  born in Zambia; educated in the UK and the US; experience in academia, private sector, government (central bank of Israel), and the IMF itself.  

Indeed, some have speculated that the Board made the surprise decision not to waive the age requirement is that Fishcer could have split the vote between Lagarde and Carstens, preventing a consensus candidate from emerging.

Between the fact that two of the most qualified non-European candidates have been disqualified on the basis of an antiquated by-law -- no one seems to be giving Carstens much of a chance against Lagarde -- and the fact that a French court has conveniently delayed a ruling on abuse of power charges against the finance minister, European countries are certainly giving the impression that they'll use any tool they can to keep their gentleman's agreement in effect. 

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

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