The Chastening: Inside the Crisis That Rocked the Global Financial System and Humbled the IMF

The Chastening: Inside the Crisis That Rocked the Global Financial System and Humbled the IMF

by Paul Blustein
The breathtaking behind-the-scenes story of the nearly disastrous global financial crisis of the late 1990s and how the International Monetary Fund tried-and failed-to stop it. At a time when the IMF has become the object of intense political controversy, The Chastening is the first book to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the Fund during an extraordinarily


The breathtaking behind-the-scenes story of the nearly disastrous global financial crisis of the late 1990s and how the International Monetary Fund tried-and failed-to stop it. At a time when the IMF has become the object of intense political controversy, The Chastening is the first book to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the Fund during an extraordinarily turbulent period in modern economic history. Based on interviews with more than 200 officials at the IMF, the World Bank, the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the White House and many foreign governments, The Chastening recounts the struggle to stem the financial crisis that flared in Thailand in mid-1997 and spread to three continents. Its disquieting conclusion: at a time when massive flows of money traverse borders and oceans, the IMF is often woefully ill-equipped to safeguard the global economy or to combat virulent new strains of investor panics. The IMF and its overseers have cultivated the image of masterminds coolly dispensing effective economic remedies. But the reality, as Washington Post economics correspondent Paul Blustein shows, is that as markets were sinking and defaults looming, the guardians of global financial stability were often scrambling, floundering, improvising, feuding among themselves and striking messy compromises. The Chastening—important and fascinating reading for anyone interested in business, finance, and economics-will chasten readers out of any sense of complacency.

Editorial Reviews

United Press International
a fascinating chronicle that sheds light into the backroom dealings of the world's largest financial organizations during...crisis and uncertainty.
Gripping, often frightening...should be read by anyone wanting to understand, from the inside, how the international financial system really works.
Financial Times
Paul Blustein has achieved the improbable; he has written a riveting thriller about the International Monetary Fund.
New York Times Book Review
Blustein tells the story [of the Asian financial crisis] with admirable aplomb...An overwhelming wealth of anecdotal detail ...Thoroughly sensible.
Foreign Affairs
The IMF and financial authorities around the world would be well-advised to make The Chastening required reading within their organizations.
Wall Street Journal
The most accessible account yet of the entire world-saving saga of the IMF...a superbly reported and skillfully woven story.
Blustein demonstrates both the narrowness of the IMF's approach and the gross inadequacy of its economic arsenal.
National Journal
a great pleasure to the end, you have painlessly arrived at a much better understanding of the IMF.
Blustein chronicles in meticulous detail how...the High Command crafted the rescue plans...[and]...details the stormy arguments inside the High Command.
Compelling and immediately spell-binding, The Chastening reveals inherent weaknesses in the global financial system.
Alan Cowell
Mr. Blustein follows this crisis from Asia to Latin America with a storyteller's eye for dialogue and details.
New York Times Sunday Business Section
Library Journal
While not an economic treatise, this marvelous work by Washington Post staff writer Blustein provides an in-depth look at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its 1997-99 crisis-fighting efforts in Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, and Brazil. Using firsthand interviews, the author provides a brief history of the IMF, a critical look at the institutions and mechanisms involved in IMF programs, and an effective portrayal of their relationship with other key players in international finance, including the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the G-7, and the World Bank. Noting that the IMF was created to help countries correct problems in their economic fundamentals, the author contends that, owing to globalization, liberalization of the international currency market, and the emergence of what the author describes as the "Electronic Herd" of nontraditional economic interests, institutions like the IMF must adapt to ever-increasing challenges and evolve to meet these challenges. To this end, Blustein offers a number of noteworthy ideas for solving existing problems and fixing the international financial architecture. Recommended for both academic and public libraries.-Norm Hutcherson, California State Univ., Bakersfield

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Excerpt from

The Chastening

Hubert Neiss spent most of his career as an economic disciplinarian for troubled countries, and with his flattop haircut and sober demeanor, he looked every bit the part. A native of Austria, Neiss was a veteran of more than three decades at the International Monetary Fund, which he joined in 1967 after finishing his Ph.D. in economics at the Hochschule fur Welthandel in Vienna. He was short but remarkably barrel-chested, the result of an enthusiasm for fitness that evoked both admiration and amusement among colleagues and friends. He often limited himself to eating, say, a banana at midday so he could spend lunchtime at a gym lifting weights. Among Neiss's strengths was an ability to remain serene and businesslike amid turbulent circumstances. His steeliness helped him rise through the IMF's ranks, culminating in his appointment in early 1997 to one of the institution's highest staff positions, director of the department overseeing the Asia Pacific Region.

But nothing in Neiss's career prepared him for the series of events that began the morning of November 26, 1997, when he landed in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, following a 16-hour plane trip from Washington.

After a brief stop at his hotel, Neiss and a couple of other IMF staffers were driven through the iron gate of the Renaissance-style headquarters of the Bank of Korea, the nation's central bank, and Neiss was ushered into the bank's international department for a briefing on Korea's latest financial data. He expected the news to be grim; what he didn't know was that the meeting would thrust him into a frenzy of activity, the likes of which no IMF official had ever experienced, aimed at staving off global economic disaster.

Korea's financial markets were undergoing a bout of turmoil similar to the crisis that had devastated another of Asia's dynamos, Thailand, about five months earlier. In late October, the Hong Kong stock market had crashed, followed by a 554-point single-day drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and once-thriving Indonesia had turned to the IMF for help in shoring up the value of its currency. Now many big international investors and lenders were betting that Korea would be the next domino to fall; the Korean currency, the won, had fallen 17 percent against the dollar in four weeks...

Korean government officials had taken the humiliating step of seeking IMF assistance only after considerable anguish and debate. They were enormously proud of having guided their nation from the ruins of war in the 1950s to the status of an export powerhouse that boasted the eleventh largest gross domestic product in the world. But the country's financial position was becoming increasingly precarious. Foreign banks were calling in short-term loans to Korean banks, and foreign investors were dumping the Korean won for dollars as they unloaded their holdings of Korean stocks and bonds. If this kept up, the central bank's reserves of hard currency would run so low that it would no longer be able to provide dollars to people who needed them. The ultimate nightmare was default, meaning that the government, the nation's banks and virtually all the biggest corporate names in Korea Inc.--such as Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung--wouldn't be able to obtain enough dollars to make payments that were due to foreign creditors and suppliers.

Neiss's mission was to negotiate a plan that would calm the markets and banish the nightmare. To the IMF, and to the top officials of the U.S. government who exercise major influence over the Fund, the specter of default by such an important economy raised the prospect of unfathomable, dreadful consequences. A failure by Korea to honor its debts, they feared, could cause the country to suffer a prolonged, crippling cutoff of loans and investments from abroad, and as neighboring countries' creditworthiness came into question they might follow Korea into default, sending the entire Asian region into a decade of stagnation and depression like the one that afflicted Latin America during most of the 1980's. Conceivably, the nerves of investors and lenders the world over would be so shattered that the financial conflagration would leap across the Pacific, lay waste to the U.S. economy, and engender a worldwide recession....

Meet the Author

Paul Blustein, a staff writer at The Washington Post, has covered business and economic issues for more than twenty years. He reported on the global financial crisis ofthe late 1990s for the Post and served as a correspondent in Asia for the newspaper from 1990 to 1995. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Oxford University, he has also worked at Forbes Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and his work has won several prizes, including business journalism's most prestigious, the Gerald Loeb Award.

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