From 9 to 15 October, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank held their annual joint meeting in Marrakech (Morocco). The last time that these two Bretton Woods institutions met on African soil was in 1973, when the IMF-World Bank meeting was held in Nairobi (Kenya). Kenya’s then President Jomo Kenyatta (1897–1978) urged those gathered to find ‘an early cure to the monetary sickness of inflation and instability that has afflicted the world’. Kenyatta, who became Kenya’s first president in 1964, noted that, ‘[o]ver the last fifteen years, many developing countries have been losing, every year, a significant proportion of their annual income through deterioration of their terms of trade’.
Communities all over the world are struggling and resisting the impacts of multiple crises. At a time of intensifying climate impacts and speculative increases of food and energy prices, governments, particularly in the Global South, are responding to unsustainable public debts and the lack of development and climate finance, with a rising wave of austerity, subjugation and extractivism. We vehemently denounce the role of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, together with other private and public lenders, perpetuate a flawed international financial architecture that exacerbates debt, climate, and economic crises, violating the basic needs and rights of millions of people and nature who have the least contribution, responsibility or control over these catastrophes.
On August 14, US-based organizations rallied in front of the BlackRock world headquarters in New York City to demand that the massive investment company cancel the USD 220 million it holds in Zambia’s external debt. Organizations that participated in the action include the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, the Peoples Forum, the Debt Collective, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, Friends of the Congo, and Friends of Swazi Freedom. For years, Zambia has been stuck diverting public funds to service its foreign debts.
On August 14, progressive organizations, led by the ANSWER Coalition and the Peoples Forum, will rally outside of the BlackRock global headquarters in New York City to demand that the multinational investment company cancel Zambia’s debt. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, holds the largest privately-owned share of Zambia’s debt at a staggering USD 220 million. BlackRock is not starved for funds, owning USD 10 trillion in assets and dividends and investing in industries such as private prisons, fossil fuels, and pharmaceutical giants. “[BlackRock’s] refusal to cancel or negotiate a restructuring of their share of the debt amounts to holding their foot on the neck of 20 million Zambians,” writes the ANSWER Coalition in a statement.
“Rather than collecting taxes from the wealthy,” wrote the New York Times Editorial Board in a July 7 opinion piece, “the government is paying the wealthy to borrow their money.” Titled “America Is Living on Borrowed Money,” the editorial observes that over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), annual federal budget deficits will average around $2 trillion per year. By 2029, just the interest on the debt is projected to exceed the national defense budget, which currently eats up over half of the federal discretionary budget. In 2029, net interest on the debt is projected to total $1.07 trillion, while defense spending is projected at $1.04 trillion.
So what we were going to talk about is really the Third World debt crisis, the new Third World debt crisis. How similar and how different is it from the one that hit the Third World back in the 1980s? What has been the specific contribution, if any, of the pandemic and the war? And what is the future of the Third World, given that in addition to all the other calamities, it is now hit with this debt crisis? Now, last time we started with a list of seven questions and we only got through the first two. So let me just go through the seven questions and then we will begin with the third question. So the first question was, what was the genesis of the 1980s debt crisis?
Today we are joined by Anne Pettifor to discuss an urgent issue of our time, that of the third world debt crisis. As we record this, this is the topic of the Summit on New Global Financing Pact called by Emmanuel Macron in Paris. And we couldn’t find a more authoritative guest for this show. Anne Pettifor does not really need any introduction, and I’m only going to give one to remind ourselves of the range of her contributions. She’s a prolific writer on issues relating to debt, finance and development, and is also an activist and has intervened in politics to great effect.
Change is coming to the World Bank. While not expected to be formalized until October, it looks like the two big shifts will involve climate change and a bigger emphasis on middle income countries. It’s difficult to predict exactly how the new mission will play out, but one thing is clear: the efforts are being driven by the desire to counter/thwart Beijing’s expanding global influence. Both Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan devoted chunks of their big China speeches in April to the subject. And it looks like the reforms will go hand in hand with pushing the debunked narrative that Chinese lending is a debt trap while also trying to relegate China to the backseat in the growing number of distressed countries.
US Senators from the Republican and Democrat parties pushed to quickly approve the bipartisan debt ceiling deal on Thursday night, June 1. Republicans, led by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, successfully negotiated severe cuts on government spending in a way that will hurt workers the most out of any class: by kicking millions off of food and health benefits, cutting the IRS making it easier for the wealthy to evade taxes, and officially putting an end date to the current freeze on student loan payments. Senate leaders pushed this bill through to ostensibly to avoid a government default.
Prof. Michael Hudson’s new book, The Collapse of Antiquity: Greece and Rome as Civilization’s Oligarchic Turning Point” is a seminal event in this Year of Living Dangerously when, to paraphrase Gramsci, the old geopolitical and geoeconomic order is dying and the new one is being born at breakneck speed. Prof. Hudson’s main thesis is absolutely devastating: he sets out to prove that economic/financial practices in Ancient Greece and Rome – the pillars of Western Civilization – set the stage for what is happening today right in front of our eyes: an empire reduced to a rentier economy, collapsing from within.
The United States and its Western allies have been the major perpetrators of economic coercion that have inflicted suffering on millions of people around the world, according to international experts and scholars. G7 leaders meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, from Friday to Sunday are set to issue a statement that includes their concerns about alleged economic coercion by China, Reuters reported, citing unnamed US officials. “The report that the G7 may call out China’s economic coercion is hypocritical given that the US is by far the world’s biggest deployer of unilateral coercive measures,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist who served as a special adviser to the UN secretary-general from 2001 to 2018.
Trade unions and rail and freight workers in France have intensified their campaign to save freight operator Fret SNCF, a subsidiary of the state-owned National Society of French Railway (SNCF). On Tuesday, May 16, the workers, responding to the call of unions including CGT des Cheminots which is affiliated to the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), marched to the Ministry of Transport in Paris, demanding that the freight company being saved from liquidation. Union representatives also held talks with the SNCF management and other transport authorities on the same day. Earlier this year, on January 18, the European Commission opened an investigation into support measures taken up by the SNFC to help Fret SNCF, such as capital injection and debt cancellation, during the 2007-2019 period, which allegedly do not comply with European state aid rules.
Washington is well aware that the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) tried to regain power militarily and failed. The TPLF has essentially been Washington's proxy in the region. This was a two-year war, and in war, unfortunately, atrocities are committed, but most of the documentation that I have seen places the atrocities on the TPLF side of the fence, and they have been, quite frankly, horrific. Having failed to overthrow the Abiy government and bring the TPLF to power, the United States tried to control the outcome diplomatically, through the Pretoria peace agreement, which Washington orchestrated from the sidelines to save the TPLF from complete defeat. The pressure that is being put on them through this IMF agreement is an example of that.
The key to economic development and ending poverty is investment. Nations achieve prosperity by investing in four priorities. Most important is investing in people, through quality education and health care. The next is infrastructure, such as electricity, safe water, digital networks and public transport. The third is natural capital, protecting nature. The fourth is business investment. The key is finance: mobilizing the funds to invest at the scale and speed required. In principle, the world should operate as an interconnected system. The rich countries, with high levels of education, healthcare, infrastructure, and business capital, should supply ample finance to the poor countries, which must urgently build up their human, infrastructure, natural and business capital.