G8: making poverty history or inequality permanent?

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Later this month, the heads of state of G8 countries will meet in Gleneagles, Scotland, for the latest round of their talks on re-ordering the world economy. To coincide with the talks, British celebrity members of the anti-globalization movement have organized a series of free pop concerts around the world that are supposed to raise awareness for their global campaign to “Make Poverty History”. Unfortunately, all these celebrity do-gooders are really achieving is to promote the strategies by which the world’s capitalist economic elites are strengthening their control over the world’s resources, at the expense of the poor people whom they claim to be helping.

The celebrities’ approach to achieving this end is to appeal to the G8 states to do more to alleviate the economic burdens on poor countries, African states in particular. They have already uncritically welcomed the announcement by G8 finance ministers on June 11 that they will cancel the debts that the world’s poorest countries owe to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. What they evidently do not realise is that the G8’s policies are far from altruistic. The G8 states had already decided to change the basis of their relations with the poorest countries in the world for a number of reasons. One was that the poorest countries were already on the verge of defaulting on their debts, which were gradually becoming untenable. The only way of averting this eventuality, which would have created a crisis for the international economic order, was to find some mechanism for reducing those debts so that the countries involved could continue to accumulate more debts without defaulting on them.

At the same time, the Bush administration had two other key interests. One was its agenda of promoting ultra-liberal free-market economic strategies by which the most powerful players in the economic game, the western transnational corporations, could seize more and more of the resources of the poorest people in the world; the other was to find some way of improving the US’s increasingly tarnished image in the world. One key element of the Bush administration’s response to the latter challenge has been to proclaim itself a champion of democracy and human rights. Another, recently discovered, has been to hop onto the debt relief bandwagon.

The debt relief is not unconditional, of course. It is in fact dependent on the countries involved accepting western prescriptions for “good governance” and “eliminating impediments to private investment”; in other words, selling their precious state resources to Western investors. George Monbiot, a prominent critic of western economic liberalisation, has summed the policy up perfectly, saying that the West is promising to stop punching African countries in the face if they hand over their crown jewels.

What the millionaire celebrities and their groupies will celebrate at concerts around the world is in truth little more than an extortion racket in the finest traditions of the American mafia.

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