[OPE] David Harvey on stimulus failure

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Fri Feb 13 2009 - 13:48:32 EST


I can understand what you are driving at. However, my remarks were a response to the idea that it would be "progressive" to simply cancel all the outstanding debts, which I illustrated with a partial hypothetical example. It has nothing to do with falllacy of composition, since no claim is made or intended about general applicability; there are many different aspects of the debt problems which we should consider.

A wellknown leftist slogan is "cancel the third world debt". But I am not in favour of such a "general" position on debt. It does not make sense to me. After all, often third world countries also consciously contracted loans, knowing jolly well what they were doing, it wasn't simply "usury" or a "rip-off". You have to get very specific, about the details of a given financial policy, and not give any license to people to grab wealth from others simple because they think they have a right to it, and that the others are "nasty parasites". Otherwise you get severe problems of integrity.

The cancellation slogan is intended to convey, that the rich industrialized countries owe something (or a lot) to the third world (or developing countries). That may very well be true, I do not deny that, but, from an anti-imperialist point of view, the substance of the matter is really quite different: it is that the rich countries specifically want to control the development of the poorer countries, including how they spend their money, and financial instruments are only one tool in this. Rich countries "say" they want to do this "for the benefit of the world", but of course they like to look after their own advantage, line their own pockets as it were, and really the autonomy of developing countries is of secondary importance (a strategist like Brzezinski has frankly admitted this).

The American politicians for instance will talk flexibly about "our national interest", "the interests of the international community", or "the interests of the region", and they will quickly change from talking about the one to talking about the other, but really, all they are saying is, that they should be in control of what happens, and that this is for everybody's benefit. Now, leaving aside legal-ethical issues about "superior values" for a moment, the problem there is that there is simply no proof - there is no proof that the American "empire" is best for everybody, and a lot of counter-evidence. If, for example, the political problems of Israel/Palestine were solved, the country would be prosperous and secure - the very fact that the conflict persists, with large-scale Western "aid", means that mass poverty persists together with a low level of social trust.

Faced with the counter-evidence, the imperialist ideologists like to philosophize about the broad sweep or course of history, and about the future. They say literally things like:

(1) "history will absolve us", which neatly lets them off the hook, even if there is nothing that will absolve them in the present - the validity of their point of view will be manifest only after we are all dead, it will be the next generations that reap the benefit. The problem there is, that these very same people weren't even capable of anticipating the global financial crisis, so how can they make these wild claims about history and the future anyhow?

(2) "If we were not in control, things would be a lot worse". The point there is, that there isn't a lot of hard evidence to support this. In some specific areas, it might be true, but in many areas it isn't, and in many others it makes no difference at all, if they are in control or not. Often, if they were not in control, the local conflicts would stop festering and be clearly resolved one way or another. The imperialists say they want to stop violence, but their own commercial and political policies caused enormous socio-economic dislocation of people that provides the breeding ground for mass violence.

(3) Since ultimately what all people want is a "workable" society where the all the basic things you need for a decent life work effectively, the imperialist philosophers say: "look out own own country, at least everything works efficiently here - wouldn't you like that model for your developing country?". Problem there is, that not only do things often not work as efficiently in rich countries as you might think, but also, rich countries have absolutely no intention of financing any comprehensive strategy for a better and more balanced physical and social infrastructure in developing countries - because this is contrary to their imperative of "big, quick short-term shareholder returns". That aside, the model of the imperialist motherland often does not even make practical sense in developing countries.

According to the Left, the economy is a sort of "engine" and there is a sort of "debt threshhold" - if you go over that, the "economic engine" simply breaks down. But this is a very impoverished understanding of the debt problematic, which is really about (re-)negotiations concerning the social and economic obligations which people have or ought to have to each other, and about who will decide who is creditworthy or not, who deserves credit. It does not really matter so much how big the debt is, what matters is rather what you have to pay off now, or can pay off now, and who is going to pay that - whether you can "subcontract" the payments to somebody else.


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Received on Fri Feb 13 13:52:40 2009

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