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By Eugenio M. Gonzales

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This chapter examines the role that the IMF has sought to play in states that embark on structural changes in an environment of acute domestic uncertainty. The conventional wisdom in much of the International Political Economy literature suggests that the IMF’s interactions with borrowing member states are largely driven by its major shareholders, and in particular the United States (Thacker, 1999; Momani, 2004; Oatley and Yackee, 2004). However, while scholars have brought to light numerous instances where major powers such as the US have influenced the development of loan programs with borrowing states, Fund staff retain considerable discretion over the performance of everyday operations.

In all three cases examined here the IMF also made widespread use of ‘prior actions’ for loans and set clear quantitative performance targets for loan programs. Yet despite appearing to fit conventional expectations of the IMF’s impact, these explanations cannot fully account for variation in the IMF’s influence over institutional change in Central Asian economies during the first decade of the postcommunist transition. Chapter 4 examines the development of the IMF’s policy dialogue with the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan after they joined the IMF, and focuses on how quickly the IMF was able to put an initial loan agreement in place.

In this respect a rationalist approach only takes us so far in terms of its explanatory value. As Sinclair (2005: 52–4) points out in the case of credit rating agencies, the status and consequentiality of symbolic actions depends on ‘what people believe about them and act on accordingly, even if those beliefs are demonstrably false’. While it is difficult to uncover observable effects that are wholly independent of other causal variables, this symbolic interchange is pertinent to the IMF’s activities as well.

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