More of an Art than a Science: The IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis and the Making of a Public Tool

Laskaridis, Christina (2020). More of an Art than a Science: The IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis and the Making of a Public Tool. Œconomia ­­– History / Methodology / Philosophy, 10(4) pp. 789–818.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/oeconomia.9857

URL: https://journals.openedition.org/oeconomia/9857

Abstract

This paper examines the origins of the IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA), a template to facilitate the measurement of a country’s debt sustainability that was introduced in 2002 and further developed in 2003. The template provides a pre-set format for governing the way debt sustainability analyses will be conducted by IMF staff economists. This paper examines how economic knowledge is embedded in the policy template and shows how expertise is shaped to resolve the IMF’s legitimation problems. This paper draws out the role of the public as an indispensable aspect of this process. Previous practice was publicly derided for being unsound and the introduction of the template attempted to make practices comparable across countries. This paper shows that the actual theoretical underpinnings of debt sustainability analysis were less important than how the “public” perceived them. Within the Fund, this “public” was perceived through reference to “the market,” governments as well as an undefined external scrutineer. The paper uses archival material from the Executive Board to show that a significant source of authority that the IMF used to enhance its legitimacy in the public domain arises from the perception of soundness in policy design, in turn relying on a perception of underlying theoretical rigour.

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