At a wide-ranging news conference in advance of weekend World Bank-IMF meetings, acting managing director Stanley Fischer attacked head-on the arguments of demonstrators who have vowed to shut down the institutions' spring meetings by clogging the streets of Washington.
Fischer, a former economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, challenged the demonstrators to come up with alternatives to the path of promoting open markets and a more closely integrated world economy.
"The word globalization may be a problem," Fischer said, conceding that officials need to find a catch-phrase with less sinister overtones. But he insisted, "The process that it represents is the only way we are going to raise people around the world to the same level as people in industrialized countries."
Fischer said, "All the evidence is that the best way to grow is to integrate into the global economy."
Thousands of demonstrators are coming to Washington with the hope that they will be able to keep delegates from getting to the opening sessions Sunday, repeating the success they had in Seattle in disrupting the opening of the World Trade Organization.
The Seattle demonstrations turned violent as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, and a global television audience saw scenes of the National Guard patrolling downtown Seattle. District of Columbia police have promised to keep the demonstrations from getting out of hand and have said they are prepared to make massive arrests if necessary.
Fischer said the demonstrations will not prevent the world's top finance officials from following the planned agenda, which will focus on various reform proposals the IMF and World Bank have been considering in the wake of the 1997-98 global currency crisis.
One of the key agenda points is a way to speed up debt relief for the poorest countries, also a top item for the protesters.
"We have the same goal as the demonstrators. We want to reduce poverty all over the world," Fischer said.
James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, the IMF's sister institution, on Wednesday rejected proposals by a congressional advisory committee to sharply curtail the bank and IMF.
Wolfensohn said he was dismayed at the prospect of thousands of demonstrators calling for the bank and fund to be shut down, because poor countries need more help than ever before.
Of course I'm concerned by the noise outside," Wolfensohn said. "It would be impossible not to be affected."
In its twice-yearly report on the state of the world economy, the IMF said Wednesday the rapid growth many countries were experiencing should continue for the rest of 2000 as long as an overheated U.S. economy does not derail the good times.
The IMF said in its new World Economic Outlook that "global economic and financial conditions have improved dramatically" over the past year, helped by strong recoveries in many of the Asian countries that had been leveled by a global currency crisis in 1997-98.