Christine Lagarde is Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, appointed in July 2011. A French National, she was previously French Finance Minister from June 2007, and had also served as France’s Minister for Foreign Trade for two years.
Ms. Lagarde also has a previous career as an anti-trust and labor lawyer with the international law firm of Baker & McKenzie, where the partnership elected her as chairman in October 1999, holding the post until June 2005 when she took her initial ministerial post in France. Ms. Lagarde has degrees from Institute of Political Studies (IEP) and from the Law School of Paris X University, where she also lectured prior to joining Baker & McKenzie in 1981.
Ms. Lagarde is a supporter of women not because she is a woman but because she believes that women can help to change the economic world climate. Her position is that despite some improvements, progress toward leveling the playing field for women has stalled. Raising women’s participation in labor markets would benefit all in a number of ways. For example, she noted, if the number of female workers was raised to the same level as that of men in the United Arab Emirates, GDP would expand by 12 percent, in Japan by 9 percent, and in the United States by 5 percent.
Compelling to say the very least.
She has used her prominent position to urge governments and policy makers around the world to take real action and remove barriers to women participating in the economy. She has made the link of social benefits to participation in the workforce, training, or active labor market programs which can help increase female employment, she has said, the availability of good and affordable childcare and greater opportunities for paternity and maternity leave are central to women’s engagement in the economy.
Another area she believes will bring influence of global markets is the effects of the ‘Arab Spring’. One year on from the tumultuous changes in the Middle East and the state of play remains uncertain. She has said we are moving into the most unpredictable, difficult and risky period of these changes with outcomes very uncertain. the Arab Spring regardless of how it eventually manifests will present unprecedented challenges to the financial markets.
Further to the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing role of women and the Middle East is the specter of mass youth unemployment. For developed economies this is possibly the most urgent and pressing of issues at present and represents an enormous challenge for governments, NGO’s and the youth themselves.
She points to more targeted social protection systems which would help free up funds for spending on areas like infrastructure, education, and health while laying the foundations for inclusive growth. This would be a break from the past when generalized subsidies were used to appease the population while allowing the privileged to benefit from unfair practices. So, macroeconomic stability and inclusive growth can—and indeed must—go hand in hand.
The biggest challenge however as far as Ms. Largarde is concerned the redoubtable challenge presented by climate change. Whole ares of the planet will see dramatic (in some cases at least) changes in the eco-systems. Those economies reliant on agriculture will have to face the prospect of changing environments which may no-longer support centuries old ways of life.
All of these challenges may seem insurmountable to many if not most but Christine Lagarde is nothing if not resourceful and provides a pathway to follow to an eventual future of promise.
She looks back at history for the lessons it can provide;
1914 and the world was at its most integrated with trade being at its highest for all of history at the time. 1914, the beginning of the First World War, the Great War and the start of a 30 year slump. Nations faced with competition looked inward on themselves and nationalistic self-interest took hold. Being French she will without question be fully aware that although France was on the winning side so to speak, France was the biggest loser of that war in terms of numbers of people killed and the extent of devastation suffered.
Following this war the great depression suffered world-wide to be again quickly followed by a Second World War where once again France on the winning side was the biggest of losers.
1944 and the Bretton Woods Conference addressed by John Maynard Keynes a British economist who ushered in the birth of the iMF. A move to unity of nations in an attempt to overcome the nationalist attitudes prevailing at the time.
Best summed up as “…we fight together on sodden battlefields. We sail together on the majestic blue. We fly together in the ethereal sky,” said Fred M. Vinson, who later became chief justice of the United States. “The test of this conference is whether we can walk together, solve our economic problems, down the road to peace as we today march to victory.”
Ms. Lagarde recognizes the challenges of today are greater still. In a hyper-connected age faced by climate change and political unrest in pursuit of self determination and under the yoke of the present economic calamity Ms. Lagarde offers hope by way of a unifying mind, she brings a call to all to partake in the pursuit of humanity and economic equality of opportunity.