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Stanley Fischer, First deputy manager, International Monetary Fund

Talk about a baptism of fire. The crisis in Mexico erupted soon after economist Stanley Fischer joined the IMF in September 1994 as first deputy manager. It was a brutal lesson in the ways of the real world for the former head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's world-renowned economics department.

Fischer had written prolifically on macroeconomics and the stabilization of inflationary economies. But, he says: "I wasn't used to thinking of the banking and financial sector as having such a critical role." Floating exchange rates, tightening budgets, liberalizing markets and worrying about wages were "all according to the book", he says. "Tesobonos were not."

Now it's Thailand's turn to shake up academic theory - not to mention the rest of south-east Asia. And it's all happening just in time to make the World Bank/IMF meetings interesting, notes Fischer. "We were heading for boredom before the Thais obliged," he quips.

On a more serious note, as the IMF moves to stem another crisis exacerbated by what Fischer calls "these damned capital flows", he's still learning. But he's willing to stick his neck out: "I very firmly hold the view that liberalizing completely before a country has the financial sector and macroeconomics in shape can be pretty dangerous."

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