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Policy provokes me to think and write. I currently work in ivory towers inspiring people to engage in their world. I am a student of the human condition and my classroom is the world. I don't need credentials to have an opinion but I've got paper to prove I know a few things about public health, social welfare and economics. I'm coming out of the tower and taking the words to the people and hope you will send some words back at me.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Brown, Southern and in-debt: IMF, ECB and the 'super' powers

The IMF and the South

There was a time not so long ago when the kind of bank induced pain being suffered by the Greeks, Irish and Portugese was only felt by those who lived in the South, in places like Jamaica. Those who at the mercy of the IMF and World Bank did what they were told if they wanted to survive economically. When the effects of globalization, the oil crisis, and markets forced open by the predecessor of the WTO meant that island states and other post-colonial economies had to absorb the state-supported production excesses of the North, the USA in particular. We were supposed to want what they had but they seemed to want nothing we had. Except in Jamaica's case: smoke, sex, sand, sea and sun.

The Case of Jamaica

In that not so long ago, I was a child growing up in Jamaica when at one time during my quite idyllic childhood, the Jamaican dollar was worth more than the US dollar. Bauxite was shipped out for aluminium production in Canada and the USA, bananas headed straight to Britain, and tourists came from the world over. Despite its tendency for election-related violence, this island state has always had fair elections. And we've had bright leaders, educated at LSE, Harvard, Oxford etc. As far as the records show none of the leaders have siphoned off their country's cash to bank accounts elsewhere.

When the oil crisis hit in the 1970's (much like the worldwide housing meltdown now) we could not absorb the pain without a loan or two or three from the IMF. With conditions that annihilated health and social services and squeezed our economy so tight food and milk were rationed. With our renowned rebellious spirit  we took to the streets. And our leaders begged and pleaded with the fiscal gods housed in Washington, DC but they got much less airtime, thinking time and decision time than Greece because we were far away and brown: a remnant of ego-induced colonial over-achievement. And if we suffered it was because we were bad money managers. Unable to make it without our old colonial ties. And even when our colonizers gave us favor, say as the UK did for banana trade, the USA (which grows no bananas) came in and severed the last of the post-colonial tethers, with the help of the WTO.

Structural Adjustment Programs

So I feel the pain of the Greeks and the Portugese; also been branded as lazy Southerners who can't balance a budget. Greece no longer being run by an elected leader but having had their democratic choice overturned by a 'colonial' power in Berlin now is being held economic hostage in a drama for which the script is being written on the fly as errors of decades past catch up with dreams of competing with the world superpower: the USA. With default all but acknowledged, the people of Greece line up for social services that used to be the domain of immigrants to their country. Cuts to health and social security mean that the poorest will feel it most; as is always the case. And those poorest are yesterday's employed with unemployment above 20% and minimum wage and government salaries suffering deep cuts. Instead of the dynamic duo of the 1970's: World Bank and IMF, the so-called 'troika' of IMF, ECB and EU are now the economic hitmen that are holding the world's economy hostage as they focus their scope on the EU's 'periphery'; nice name for some southern, brown neighbours who came late to the single currency party.

The Case of the Irish

The Irish on the other hand seemed to have hunkered down to feel the pain or leave, as they are wont to do. And without being stereotypical but instead being honorific, I'm sure there will be great literature in which their post-boom will be a riveting context. But interestingly as they are not brown or southern, they are not tainted by words such as lazy.

Surviving Beyond Austerity 

But the Greeks have no choice. Just like Jamaica and Michael Manley had no choice in the 1970's. They will survive. Just like we did. My parents chose to leave in 1977. With $75/person due to a dollar so devalued and exports being so tight that the only thing bringing in USD was those green leaves that foreigners loved to smoke.

So make noise Greece. Make noise Portugal. But save your strength. It's going to be a long trip back to posterity and though these policies are supposed to bring you home, they will bring you back to nowhere that you recognize. Until you get 'there' (wherever 'there' is) you will be poorer, sicker, less educated and economically traumatized for a long time; whether in or out of the EU. But survival is better than the alternative; not that anyone seems to know what that alternative is.

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