You are losing 5-0 -- and the game hasn't even begun. Yet you enter the match anyway. Why?
This is the question Agustin Carstens, Mexico's central bank governor, attempted to answer Monday at an event in Washington.
Mr. Carstens, of course, is seeking the leadership of the International Monetary Fund. He did so knowing that French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde had locked up universal support in Europe before the nomination process was even complete. Europe controls about a third of the votes at the fund.
"If you start 5-0, your chances are slim," Mr. Carstens said during an appearance at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
But Mr. Carstens is actually playing a different game, one that will extend beyond the June 30 deadline the IMF's executive board set for choosing a new managing director.
Even if Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest on sexual assault charges hadn't forced an unexpected showdown for his former job, the biggest challenge in choosing the next managing director would have been ensuring a legitimate process. For decades, the credibility of the institution has suffered from the European Union and the United States deciding among themselves who they would elevate to lead the IMF. The only way to end the cycle would be to offer emerging markets and other countries a fair opportunity to choose a non-European.
Mr. Carstens took it upon himself to give them that opportunity. "My intention is to raise the bar," he said. "If we never run candidates, we will never be where we want to be."
Assuming she wins, Ms. Lagarde will owe Mr. Carstens a debt.
In their rush to coalesce around a candidate, European countries created the impression they were trying to intimidate other candidates from entering the race. As Mr. Carstens said Monday, the Europeans didn't play fair, adopting a candidate before any others had entered the race.
The competition would have been more interesting if the IMF's executive board would have accepted Stanley Fischer's nomination. However, the board on Monday rejected the head of the Bank of Israel, a sign there wasn't enough support for his candidacy to change rules that bar anyone older than 65 from applying to be managing director.
But Mr. Carstens's campaign prevents a coronation, which can only help the winner's legitimacy. A legitimate election demands choice. The European Union decided to choose one of is own, regardless of merit. That may well skew the decision making of other countries, seeing it in their interests to get behind the lead horse. But if non-European countries opt to back Ms. Lagarde, they will no longer be able to complain that they had the decision forced on them.
Mr. Carstens might anticipate losing, but he isn't running to lose. On Monday, he pulled few punches, questioning whether Ms. Lagarde's background as a lawyer and politician qualified her to lead a technocratic institution such as the IMF. "It's not enough to have good managerial and diplomatic skills to bring people together," Mr. Carstens said. "I have the capacity to provide intellectual leadership to the find."
He also said Ms. Lagarde's involvement in the rescues of Greece, Ireland and Portugal might present a conflict of interest if she were to take over the IMF. Mr. Carstens even wondered openly why, given the state of Europe's economy, anyone would want to anoint a European to run the world's premier institution for economic policy.
Those are the kinds of arrows that are slung in a legitimate political campaign.