IMF Chief Urges Policymakers to Help Economy

IMF Chief Christine Lagarde, speaking last Saturday at an economic conference in Jackson Hole, said the United States should reach a “credible” plan to control government debts in the future, but push for stronger economic growth now.

If the economy stagnates, she said, plans to cut government spending in the future will lose credibility. “Who will believe that commitments to cut spending can survive a lengthy stagnation with prolonged unemployment and social dissatisfaction?” she said.

Her comments echoed those of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who in a speech here Friday urged Congress to do more to help the ailing US economy. Congress, led by House Republicans, has emphasised reducing government budget deficits over short-term measures to create jobs.

Lagarde also pushed US policymakers to halt “the downward spiral of foreclosures, falling house prices and deteriorating household spending”. She said they could move more aggressively to reduce the amount of principal homeowners owe on their mortgages; about one in four United States homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

The government could help homeowners take advantage of superlow mortgage rates to refinance their homes and reduce their monthly payments, she said.

In July, Lagarde replaced Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the IMF. He had been accused of assaulting a hotel maid. Those charges were dismissed last week.

Private investors or governments must replenish the capital of banks facing potential losses if ailing European countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal cannot meet government debt payments, Lagarde said.

Lagarde urged central banks around the world to keep interest rates low and consider “unconventional” steps if they are required to protect the fragile global recovery.

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