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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IMF, World Bank Stick to Tradition

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WASHINGTON -- The national capital has hosted some monster protests over the decades: rallies for civil rights, for and against legal abortions, against the war in Vietnam, against the inauguration of George W. Bush. But to hear Washington's city fathers tell it, all will pale in comparison to the day the IMF/World Bank protesters came back.

The IMF and the World Bank are headquartered in Washington D.C., and once a year they pow-wow in some exotic locale. This year, these two enormously wealthy institutions -- they together make yearly profits of about $2 billion -- have again opted to meet at home, in one of America's poorest and most messed up cities, on Sept. 29 and 30.

Washington has been through this before, in April 2000. The city had to spend millions on clean-up and police overtime after about 20,000 protested an IMF meeting.

This time, the city is expecting 100,000 protesters. Mayor Anthony Williams says intelligence reports indicate they will include from 1,000 to 2,000 violent anarchists.

The authorities are putting up a staggering $29 million to prepare for these protests. The Secret Service is even building a three-and-a-half-kilometer $2 million chain-link fence around the downtown -- a step never taken in the history of Washington protest movements. (The big question: Will it have razor wire on top?)

But D.C. -- unlike Moscow -- is a poor and over-extended municipality. Wealthy people work in Washington, but they tend to nestle into the orange cushioned seats of the D.C.-subsidized Metro system every afternoon and ride back to their homes in Maryland or Virginia. Home is where they pay income taxes and property taxes, where they do their shopping.

As the city becomes more of a business district, it also handles more and more institutions not required to pay any taxes, such as embassies, universities and, yes, the IMF and the World Bank.

Washington just this week had to close D.C. General, a hospital filled with low-income people seeking help, because it could no longer afford to subsidize it. So it's not surprising that Mayor Williams has asked the White House, the fund and the bank to ante up.

The Bush administration has offered $16 million. But the IMF and the World Bank have told Mayor Williams his city will have to eat the remaining $13 million (it's going to cost $11 million just to house, feed and pay the additional 3,000 police officers the city is bringing in from out-of-town).

"The fund and the bank take the traditional view that host countries are responsible for providing a secure working environment," said IMF spokesman William Murray.

The bank and the fund are tax-exempt. They own prime properties just off Pennsylvania Avenue, and make hundreds of millions annually in profits. The U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice -- a bank/fund-bashing coalition -- calculates that if they paid just property and profit taxes, that would mean an annual $57.3 million for Washington.

Global Justice also notes that many tax-free institutions in America, recognizing they are a strain on the budgets of their host cities, make voluntary "payments in lieu of taxes," or PILOTs. Harvard, MIT and Yale all offer PILOTs to their home towns; while the federal government offers PILOTs on behalf of its tax-free national parks to more than 2,000 communities. The IMF and the World Bank, however, "take the traditional view ..."

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a Washington-based fellow of The Nation Institute [www.thenation.com].