Do international organizations generate benchmarks and data as tools for policy enforcement or as tools of knowledge creation? This paper suggests the latter through a case study on the power of numbers in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP). While the IMF is typically viewed as an institution that enforces global standards for economic governance through the imposition of quantitative targets (‘numbers’), we suggest that its use of benchmarking tools through the generation of financial data actually serves as knowledge creation tool for policy dialogue. As such, the IMF’s program practices differ from their policy proclamations on the need for universal standards and transparency. Seen through a pragmatist lens, as often found in economic sociology, the IMF seeks to generate ‘learning by monitoring’ with member states within its broader international political and economic constraints. This process must yield to broader principal-agent dynamics in the IMF’s governance structure, as well as tip its cap to private market actors. But it is also not hostage to them. We suggest that the IMF’s use of ‘pragmatic numbers’ within FSAPs demonstrates one method by which an institution seeks to foster learning within an environment of noise and domination
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