The United States may swing a lot of weight in the International Monetary Fund but its voice has not always been the most welcome in IMF councils. New US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers does not seem to care, however, and in a speech last week to the London Business School, he staked out what will be the US stance going forward. It is worth noting because no successor has yet been appointed to IMF managing director Michel Camdessus, who is stepping down, and because there is still a considerable lobby for a kindlier gentler IMF in the Father Christmas mode, which is not what the US has in mind. It is also worth noting because Mr Summers laid emphasis on what happened in Asia during the recent financial crisis as a demonstration of why he wants the IMF to become more focused on a role of international monetary policeman rather than social worker. Essentially, he advocated that the IMF limit its long-term financial involvement with economically troubled countries, becoming a lender of last resort only, and concentrate on solutions to the financial emergencies increasingly introduced by modern financial practices. 'In 1976, people were not surprised when the UK turned to the IMF,' he said. 'Today it is inconceivable. 'The IMF's goal must now be to mark a path for the graduation of the emerging market economies so that they too will reach the point when calling on the IMF for financial support is unthinkable.' In particular, he said, two changes were essential if the world was to avoid the sort of bank-run psychology that characterised both the 1997 Asian crisis and the 1995 Mexican crisis. The first is that governments should not pin the blame for their capital-account crises on global capital markets when their own efforts to attract short-term inflows could not reasonably be sustained. They must reconsider their approach to welcoming short-term capital in-flows in the presence of too many domestic guarantees, and the IMF must promote a more fully integrated assessment of national liquidity and balance sheets. The second essential change, he said, is that the IMF must highlight more clearly the risks of unsustainable exchange rate regimes and here it is worth quoting him directly again. Mr Summers cited Thailand's pre-crisis tax breaks for offshore foreign borrowing as an example of this problem, but his criticism is as easily targeted at Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines. 'These crises have reaffirmed the impossibility of maintaining both a fixed exchange rate and substantial discretion in domestic monetary policy,' he said. 'The IMF must increasingly bring to the fore in its discussions with countries the implications of this fact when it comes to the choice of an exchange rate regime.' This criticism is like painting a bulls-eye in the centre of the office of every central bank governor in Asia and then sticking a dart firmly into each of them, one by one. Nothing could better exemplify the cause of the Asian financial crisis than central banks fixing their currencies rigidly to the US dollar while still trying to dictate domestic interest rates and keeping borders open to capital flows. It is, and it was, a prescription for creating first a financial bubble and then an inevitable collapse. Only Hong Kong can legitimately plead not guilty on the grounds that, while it fixed its currency, it stuck to the rules of the currency board system and did not interfere with domestic interest rates. Almost all other Asian central banks, if they are to be honest with themselves, must accept that they had themselves to blame for what happened to them and that Mr Summers has perfectly described the causes of their self-inflicted problems. But don't bet that they will accept it. They are still too busy excusing themselves and blaming others, and the danger is that they will still try to bend the new leadership of the IMF to their way of thinking.