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FT: Why capital controls are not all bad

Authors: Ilene Grabel, and Ha-Joon Chang
October 25, 2010

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An opinion piece in the Financial Times debate the merits of capital controls.

Was it really just over a decade ago that the International Monetary Fund and investors howled when Malaysia imposed capital controls  in response to the Asian financial crisis? We ask because suddenly those times seem so distant. Today, the IMF is not just sitting on its hands as country after country resurrects capital controls, but is actually going so far as to promote their use. What about the investors whose freedoms are eclipsed by the new controls? Well, their enthusiasm for foreign lending and investing has not been damped in the least. So what is going on here? In our view, nothing short of the most significant transformation in global financial management of the past 30 years.

Like most transformations, this reform has been gradual. Reform in the IMF view of capital controls actually began soon after the Asian crisis, as countries such as Chile, China and India imposed controls. Most analysts found that these controls were beneficial in key respects. This success led the IMF to soften its hardline stance: it admitted that controls might be tolerable in exceptional cases provided that they were temporary, market friendly and focused strictly on capital inflows. That said, policymakers adopted capital controls at their peril – not least risking condemnation by the Fund and by credit rating agencies, and punishment by international investors.

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