Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Christine Lagarde: Advocating Financial Sensibility

Christine Lagarde is a prominent figure in the realms of finance, economics, and international diplomacy. Over the years, she has distinguished herself as a trailblazer, becoming the first woman to lead the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and subsequently the first woman to head the European Central Bank (ECB).

First published in Passions, Vol. 56, this article has been repurposed for the digital world – exclusive only on VOICE OF ASIA.

In a world where sovereign debt has resulted in a good number of countries, particularly in Europe, facing obstacles in meeting their obligations and settling payments, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) role as the lender of the last resort and global financial planning advisor became even more prominent. And so was the role of its chief executive and Managing Director at the time, Christine Lagarde.

A lawyer who made her name in anti-trust lawsuits in the United States prior to joining public life in her native France, Christine Lagarde is one of those rare characters who have found success in both the private and the public sectors.

A pioneer of sorts, she was the first woman to be the Chair of global law firm Baker & McKenzie (the second largest in the United States), the first to be French Minister of Finance and consequently the first woman to decide financial policy in a G8 country.

Not that her gender played any role in her advancement. From the time she joined the French government in 2005 to the time she left in 2011 to take up her post as IMF Managing Director, Lagarde was entrusted with some of the most important Ministries in France – starting with the Ministry of Trade (France is the world’s fifth-largest exporter) and followed by a brief stint with the Ministry of Agriculture (the country is the sixth-largest agriculture producer.

It was however as Minister of Finance that she made her mark. In September 2008, slightly over one year after she took office in June 2007, the international financial system was shaken to the core when Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest investment bank, collapsed.

And thanks to the complicated web of collateralised debt and the interdependent nature of the financial system, the aftershocks were felt around the world, particularly in Europe. Banks in Europe suddenly found themselves facing a credit crunch as the fear of lending gripped them. However, amid the panic and consternation, Lagarde emerged as the leader, coordinating with her fellow EU Ministers of Finance to come up with a concerted effort to tackle the problem.

By stepping up to the mark, Christine Largade helped to contain the effects of the financial crisis in Europe. Definitely, there have been some serious casualties, such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. But for the most part, Europe may be down but it is definitely not out.

Lagarde’s exemplary grace under pressure was also one of the main reasons why she was nominated to head the IMF in 2011. It needed someone with the gravitas and the acumen to lead it during trying financial times.

And it had just the person in Christine Lagarde. An advocate of financial sensibility, she is neither an austerity hawk nor a stimulus fanatic, but is instead focused on the practical and pragmatic without any adherence to dogmatic theories.

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