The Washington Post carries an extensive profile of Olivier Blanchard, now of PIIE after his period as IMF economic counsellor – here.
The section on the Irish bailout is interesting:
The one place European leaders were anxious for a bank rescue, however, was in Ireland, where by fall 2008 banks were already reeling from losses after the bursting of a giant real estate bubble. The Irish government had nationalized one big bank and bailed out several others, but the cost proved so high that two years later the government itself was on the verge of defaulting on its own debts and turned to the international community for help.
The IMF had convinced Irish officials that, as part of any rescue package, those who had lent money to the banks should be forced to share in the pain. But Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank and a key player in any rescue plan, was adamant that there be no “haircuts” for bank creditors.
Trichet’s motivation was not surprising. The biggest creditors of the bankrupt Irish banks were French and German banks that themselves could go under if forced to recognize such losses, requiring costly and unpopular bailouts from their own governments. He also feared that any debt restructuring, as it is politely called, might make it difficult and more expensive for other European banks to borrow. Trichet went so far as to threaten to cut all central-bank lending to Irish banks if their debts were restructured, the equivalent of a death sentence for the Irish banking system.
With no other options, Ireland agreed to guarantee all of its banks’ debts, paying for it with a $67 billion international loan package whose harsh terms would drive the Irish economy into a deep recession and saddle a generation of Irish taxpayers with the full cost of repayment.
Strauss-Kahn, desperate for the Fund to play a visible role in the crisis, agreed to go along with the terms of the bailout. In rationalizing its participation, the Fund was forced to issue what Blanchard and his colleagues knew were unrealistically optimistic predictions about the quick recovery of the Irish economy. It would not be the only time the Fund would buckle to political pressure from European governments that are among its largest shareholders.
“We were in a difficult position calling attention to the fact that the European banking system may have been insolvent,” Strauss-Kahn said in an interview from Morocco. “It was not our job to cause bank runs. Olivier’s intellectual authority on that matter was particularly helpful, if not totally successful.”