The International Monetary Fund operates primarily as a banker bailout machine. They cajole and tempt and confuse and threaten the leaders of governments worldwide to pay off the failed bets of the big bankers using the taxpayer funds of their countries. This has been going on a long time, at least since the early 1980s.
Thus, I am not in the teeniest bit surprised that the same thing is happening today in Iceland and Latvia.
This article by Michael Hudson has some of the details:
For the past decade Iceland has been a kind of controlled experiment, an extreme test case of neoliberal free-market ideology. ... Is there a limit, a point at which government will draw a line against taking on public responsibility for private debts beyond any reasonable capacity to pay without drastically slashing public spending on education, health care and other basic services? ...
The European Union and International Monetary Fund have told them to replace private debts with public obligations, and to pay by raising taxes, slashing public spending and obliging citizens to deplete their savings. Resentment is growing not only toward those who ran up these debts -- Iceland's bankrupt Kaupthing and Landsbanki with its Icesave accounts, and heavily debt-leveraged property owners and privatizers in the Baltics and Central Europe -- but also toward the neoliberal foreign advisors and creditors who pressured these governments to sell off the banks and public infrastructure to insiders.
This is the trick: replacing private debts with public obligations. Lots of people loaned money to banks and corporations in Iceland. They are now facing huge losses.
What is supposed to happen here is: they take their losses. There was no government guarantee. Why should someone with no relation to this business deal have to pay off their losses just because they happen to live in Iceland?
The government of Iceland may not actually have the money to pay this off. They would have to borrow it. When the IMF makes a "rescue loan" to a government, the money spends no time in Iceland or Latvia. It goes directly to the foreign creditors, in places like New York and London.
However, the debts remain, to be paid off by the taxpayers of Iceland. Taxes rise, which just makes a bad economic situation worse. Valuable and important services are cut -- precisely when they are most needed. Then, the IMF "advisors" come in and start to make a lot of demands.
For example, they may demand that the government sell off "public infrastructure" and the assets of failed banks (which still have considerable value) to pay off the loans which were used to bail out the bankers in New York and London. Who buys this "public infrastructure"?
Typically, it's the bankers in New York and London! Normally, at very good prices -- very, very good prices. Extraordinarily good prices.
Prices for assets in a crisis are normally very low. But, a government that can be coerced into bailing out the bankers can also usually be coerced into selling off state assets at values that no private owner would accept.
Hudson calls this "neoliberal free-market ideology." Of course, it has nothing to do with the principles of capitalism. You could call it a form of fascist imperialism. I think John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The History of the American Empire, would agree with this terminology.
It is hard to tempt and cajole and confuse world leaders when you use unpleasant terms like "fascist imperialism." That's why these proposals are camouflaged with labels like "neoliberal free-market principles," when they have nothing to do with free-market principles.
It's not about "conservative" and "liberal." It's about us against the banker imperialists. The IMF should be abolished.