The IMF and the World Bank: How Do They Differ?
Known collectively as the Bretton Woods Institutions after the remote village in New Hampshire, U.S.A., where they were founded by the delegates of 44 nations in July 1944, the Bank and the IMF are twin intergovernmental pillars supporting the structure of the world’s economic and financial order. That there are two pillars rather than one is no accident. The international community was consciously trying to establish a division of labor in setting up the two agencies. Those who deal professionally with the IMF and Bank find them categorically distinct. To the rest of the world, the niceties of the division of labor are even more mysterious than are the activities of the two institutions.
Similarities between them do little to resolve the confusion. Superficially the Bank and IMF exhibit many common characteristics. Both are in a sense owned and directed by the governments of member nations. The People’s Republic of China, by far the most populous state on earth, is a member, as is the world’s largest industrial power (the United States). In fact, virtually every country on earth is a member of both institutions. Both institutions concern themselves with economic issues and concentrate their efforts on broadening and strengthening the economies of their member nations. Staff members of both the Bank and IMF often appear at international conferences, speaking the same recondite language of the economics and development professions, or are reported in the media to be negotiating involved and somewhat mystifying programs of economic adjustment with ministers of finance or other government officials. The two institutions hold joint annual meetings, which the news media cover extensively. Both have headquarters in Washington, D.C., where popular confusion over what they do and how they differ is about as pronounced as everywhere else. For many years both occupied the same building and even now, though located on opposite sides of a street very near the White House, they share a common library and other facilities, regularly exchange economic data, sometimes present joint seminars, daily hold informal meetings, and occasionally send out joint missions to member countries.