Thursday, 31 May 2012

Christine Lagarde and Her Little Kids in Niger

I've been noticing an interesting resurgence of Victorian-style philanthropy in recent years.  The Samuel Johnston quote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, springs to mind, albeit in a sort of inverted form.  I get a sneaky feeling reading between the lines that our modern day scoundrels are planning to take refuge (and vast profit) from internationalism.  Mind you, I’m not suggesting there’s anything new about that. 

The first hint of the slant came from a hedge fund manager.  He went through what seemed a well-rehearsed mantra of self-justification, in response to a BBC interviewer's suggestion that what we require now is a “just form of capitalism”.  Essentially his response was that 1.3 million Chinese sweatshop grafters were as entitled to no less a quality of life than we, undeserving slackers in the West.  It seems then, that if the Chinese people, who don't have democracy, are not to expect justness, neither should we.  Maybe not, but was he forgetting, who funded his free education sometime in the middle of last century, which just happened to make it possible for him to become what he is today?  (Don't ask me to describe what that is; I try to moderate my language on these blogs.) 

Anyway, that gave me my first whiff of suspicion about what might be the topic of debate, in the tax havens of late. The most striking thing however, is that it belies any illusions we might have about national loyalty. To quote George Carlin, “They don’t care about you, at all, at all, at all.” Why should they? Maybe they shouldn’t. But when the excrement hits the fan, we still have to bail them out - because now, "we’re all in this together".

Then a while later I heard a well-known software magnate along with a big-pharmaceutical boss and an African ex health minister (no names, no pack drill - links herewith) on Newsnight, (BBC again), set-faced and implacable, swatting off, like pesky flies, the concerns of all the little people from the NGOs etc.   No ifs or buts, thank you very much.  They intend to surcharge the hoi polloi in the West for their medicines so to supply the developing countries at knocked down prices.  Fair enough, but notice the way it’s the hoi polloi that has to take up the slack.  Prices, terms and conditions remain at the discretion of the profiteers - of course.   

Then, very recently, I saw Christine Lagarde of the IMF quoted in the Guardian Newspaper (UK) saying, "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens." 

In all of the above cases however, it seems to me that the glaringly obvious missing element is democratic accountability.  Another glaringly obvious thing is the part that private ownership plays.  My concern is that, privatisation, compounded with 'small government', debt based banking, and a few other tricks of the cheap labour trade, aren't conducive with democracy of any real substance - and neither, I suspect, are they meant to be. 

For my liking, the world's elite are far too eager to take the initiative in the sphere of world development, because it means they’ll get to do things their way.  ‘We, the people’ need to ask ourselves if that's what we want:  Can we do more of these things together, democratically - or, should we just accept the diktat of the oligarchs?

Well, whatever - if we can't get a better grip of our democratic responsibilities the little kids in Niger will just have to rely on Lagard-style neo-Dickensian philanthropy - and so be it.  It’s better than neglecting them, but it’s not the option I’d choose.  However, Dickensian philanthropy is one thing; the Dickensian workhouse is another.  And that, I suspect, is our future, if we can’t manage to use our democracy more effectively.

Anyway, three cheers for the search button.  Maybe I'm just an old cynic – although I hasten to add that I wasn't born this way – but I found myself wondering what it is that so endears Madam Lagarde and the unelected cabal who actually pull the strings at the IMF to those little children of the developing nations - and particularly Niger. 

“Stop it!"  I scolded myself.  "Stop looking for ulterior motives in everything that shower does.  After all, who could argue against bettering the lives of these little children in Niger?  They don’t have a pot-to-p*ss in between them. 

I do.  In fact, I’ve several pots in which to do the aforementioned.  Furthermore, there’s no shortage of crap around this house - all manufactured in Far Eastern sweatshops.  (At least the cat’s happy; there’s no room to swing her.) 

But I couldn’t help myself; I just had to google up, 'Niger IMF' - and voila!  The answer materialised, before my eyes.  Apparently, by sheer coincidence, the place is awash with oil and uranium – unlike Greece, of course.  Greece is awash with olive oil and I heard recently that that’s why the price of olive oil is plummeting.  It must be the only thing reducing in price these days.  (Maybe I could get my car converted for bio fuel.) 
“Niger’s GDP growth is forecast to soar to 14.1 percent in 2012 from a projected 3.8 percent in 2011."  I read on the IMF website.

I bet it will!  It's too bad that ordinary people of Niger, including the little children that Madam Lagarde is so concerned about will see scant benefit.  Meanwhile, there’ll be no shortage of sweatshop labour in the guise of ‘growth’ to keep them busy. 

Growth, growth, austerity, growth...  You could do a waltz to it!  Or maybe we could do a great big worldwide conga, round and round in ever-decreasing circles until we all vanish up our own chuffs - not unlike the way the banking system goes every so often.  

But, as I'm sure the Greek people are aware, moneylenders are not philanthropists; there's always the payback after the party.  Just like every other pie that the IMF sticks its finger into, the lion's share of the ‘growth’ will disappear, spiralling up through the ozone layer.  Up, up and away it’ll whiz, with the elite of this world, riding shotgun.  Off they’ll soar in their recently privatised space-quest to privatise the stars, now that ownership of terrestrial life is no longer in doubt.

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