This two-part article was co-produced and co-published with the Transnational Institute. The second installment appears tomorrow.
One is Mexican, described by the Financial Times for his “Wall Street-sized reputation for financial wizardry”; the other is Indian hailed by India’s Economic Times as “the Poster Boy of Banking” whose “chiselled features are as sharp as his brain.” Meet Agustin Carstens and Raghuram Rajan. As the world’s economic elite gathers this week to meet in Davos, they are a perfect example of what has been called the "Davos class" – what Samuel Huntingdon described as a class who “see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.” U.S.-educated central bankers in two emerging market economies, their stories focused on their activities in one year, 2015, reveal how global power has both shifted and yet ultimately reinforced a global economic empire. Carstens entered the inner circle of financial elites, via his role as Mexico’s finance minister from 2006 to 2009, during which time he was responsible for managing the country’s response to the global financial crisis. In that capacity, Carstens turned to the IMF in April of 2009 for a $47 billion credit line to help Mexico weather the financial fallout from the crisis. During this time, he was appointed Chairman of the Joint Development Committee (JDC) of the World Bank, and after being appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Mexico in 2010, he became a member of the steering committee of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), set up to help coordinate response to the financial crisis, and was also appointed to the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland, which coordinates between 60 major central banks around the world. This impressive career resumé led to him being considered in 2011 as a contender for the top spot at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Raghuram Rajan’s rise to Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) followed a reverse trajectory to that of Carsten – not building his career first at a national level, but rather by gaining financial market legitimacy for his work at the IMF making himself a highly-sought after candidate within India’s elite circles. However, like Carstens, he started off in the U.S. education system, obtaining a PhD in economics from MIT in the United States in 1991, then became a professor at the University of Chicago before, in 2003, becoming the first non-Westerner and youngest person ever to fill the post of Chief Economist at the IMF, a position he held until 2007. His predictions in 2005 that “financial innovations” of the previous years and decades could make financial markets increasingly fragile, vulnerable and prone to crisis may have been questioned at the time, but after the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and proved Rajan correct, they led to him becoming well respected.
But this independence of thinking didn’t dim his belief in central tenets of neoliberalism, necessary to receive the support from financial markets to stand for office. In August of 2012, Rajan was appointed as the chief economic adviser to India’s finance ministry, praised by the Wall Street Journal as “a strong believer in liberalization and privatization,” who felt that India should continue with many of the market reforms it began implementing in the early 1990s. And the following August, in 2013, he was appointed to head the central bank by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Immediately upon becoming Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Rajan told the Financial Times that he planned to turn India into “a more continental and open economy” within a globalized world. Such a task is not easy, and comes with a great many risks. “I have to be careful,” he concluded.
Fostering a common vision in support of private financial capital
As central bankers in a globalized financial order, Carstens and Rajan have plenty of opportunities to meet up. They both sit on important committees of the Bank for International Settlements that meets every two months. Rajan is Vice Chairman of the BIS Board of Directors while Carstens is Chairman of BIS’s Economic Consultative Committee (ECC) and Chairman of the Global Economy Meeting (GEM). The latter has been described by its former chairman and President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, “as the prime group for the governance of central bank cooperation.” The Spring and Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), taking place in April and September (or October), are also another regular stop in their calendars, especially for Carstens who has been appointed Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), a secretive steering committee for the Fund. In addition, both Rajan and Carstens attend the private gatherings of the Group of 20 (G-20) nations that take place four times a year.
Beyond the world of inter-state financial cooperation, both Carstens and Rajan are frequent guests at meetings of private financiers – and thus all too easily pulled into the vision and interests of the private financial world – through gatherings of groupings such as the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the world’s largest and most important association of global financial institutions. IIF brings together the top executives of nearly 500 major banks, asset management firms, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and other investment institutions.
During the IMF’s Spring Meeting in Washington in 2015, D.C., Carstens along with the Chinese Central Banker Zhou Xiaochuan, spoke at a forum on the subject of "International Capital Markets and Emerging Markets." Carstens also sits as a member of an IIF exclusive advisory working group dedicated to supporting capital flows to emerging market countries, called the "Group of Trustees of the Principles," sitting alongside other current and former central bankers, finance ministry officials and private bankers and financiers.
In 2013, shortly after his appointment as Governor of the RBI, Rajan spoke to an audience of the IIF outlining his objectives for reforming India’s economy over the coming years, which included further “liberalization” of India’s various financial and debt markets and to transform his own institution into a modern central bank with strict Western standards and credentials. Governor Rajan is also a member of the very exclusive Group of Thirty (G30), a private research and advocacy group of roughly 30 individuals, including current and former central bankers.
Among these meetings, the annual meeting in Davos in January, which Carstens attended in 2015, is a key forum to meet other elites outside financial circles including dozens of heads of state and hundreds of ministers and other high-ranking government officials, business and financial leaders, media and academic figures, and the chiefs of every major international organization.
Carsten and Rajan’s interactions and meetings at least ten times a year alongside other top financial diplomats help to foster shared experiences, understanding and objectives, encourage cooperation at the supranational level, and further align their ideological positions relative to one another. Similarly, their extensive interactions and affiliation with private financial market participants helps to create a community of shared interests between central bankers and financiers. Ultimately, these groupings and exchanges allow the central bankers to come face to face with their main constituents, for it is the interests of financial markets that central banks protect above all else, whether through the promotion of liberalization and other “structural reforms,” including austerity measures that are frequently demanded by markets.
Central banks also serve financial markets through the implementation of bailout programs designed to save banks and financial institutions when markets fail, as well as through the management of monetary policy with its primary objectives of achieving ‘price stability’ (low and stable inflation), which generally favours creditors at the expense of debtors. The prevailing orthodoxy of central bankers is closely aligned with the interests and objectives of private financial institutions, and Governors Carstens and Rajan are no exceptions.
Stay tuned for the second installment in this series which runs tomorrow.