The one-minute expert

Your essential companion to this week's big event; The IMF

What is it?

Internal Memo Format, not to be confused with the International Monetary Fund, is a method of inter-office communication using diplomatically coded symbols like ":)" for "yes, I'd be happy to loan you money until pay day."

Are you short of cash?

Sometimes it seems everyone is, especially countries in Latin America and Africa. Even Britain had to use it in the late 1970s. With the IMF, it is possible to lend money to the desperate while teaching them to be more frugal but without getting their backs up.

So the Third World loves it?

Certainly not. In fact, most of the developing world loathes it for making them be fiscally responsible.

But being responsible is good.

Not if it means cutting subsidies to the voters it isn't. And under IMF, every memo has to start with the sentence: Thou shalt not underwrite the cost of food. Hungry voters have been known to take to the streets if that's put too bluntly.

So why is it in the news?

The people in charge of the IMF, plus a gaggle of hangers-on and media types, are meeting in Washington this week for their annual pow wow over what to do with it.

If it's about money, why not London or New York?

Money is power, and power means Washington. Besides, many of the people responsible for the Format come from the banking sector - in London or New York - and wanted to get away to somewhere else. Preferably somewhere with good restaurants.

So what will they be discussing?

The latest proposal is for a new "syntax" under which gold from rich countries would be used to pay down the debt of poor countries.

Who do they owe the money to?

The rich countries.

So they'll end up paying themselves.

Exactly. That's the beauty of it. It's a closed loop, perfectly symmetrical, with no loose ends. Lexicographers love things that work that way. They call them "circular definitions". The poor countries would be happy because they wouldn't owe so much, and the rich countries would be happy because they will have been paid.

And everyone's happy.

Except for the Paris Club.

I thought they were in Washington.

Yes. So is the Paris Club. They go to the same places as the IMF. It's a bit of a clique in the top circles of international formatting.

So what's their beef?

The Paris Club represents rich countries. It feels that it's being asked to do too much to help poor ones and wants the IMF to do more.

So no one really likes it?

On the other hand, no one has come up with a better way of helping the world's most desperate countries without insulting them too much.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...