Saturday July 15, 2017
On August 14, 1997, shortly after the Thai baht collapsed on July 2nd, Indonesia floated the rupiah. This prompted Stanley Fischer, then the Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund and presently Vice Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, to proclaim that “the management of the IMF welcomes the timely decision of the Indonesian authorities. The floating of the rupiah, in combination with Indonesia’s strong fundamentals, supported by prudent fiscal and monetary policies, will allow its economy to continue its impressive economic performance of the last several years.”
Contrary to the IMF’s expectations, the rupiah did not float on a sea of tranquility. It plunged from a value of 2,700 rupiahs per U.S. dollar to lows of nearly 16,000 rupiahs per U.S. dollar in 1998. Indonesia was caught up in the maelstrom of the Asian Financial Crisis.
By late January 1998, President Suharto realized that the IMF medicine was not working and sought a second opinion. In February, I was invited to offer that opinion and was appointed as Suharto’s Special Counselor. Although I did not have any opinions on the Suharto government, I did have definite ones on the matter at hand. After nightly discussions at the President’s private residence, I proposed an antidote: an orthodox currency board in which the rupiah would be fully convertible into and backed by the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate. On the day that news hit the street, the rupiah soared by 28% against the U.S. dollar on both the spot and one year forward markets. These developments infuriated the U.S. government and the IMF.