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Speech by Eric Toussaint at the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Despite the fact that the millennium goals are exceedingly modest, they will not even be achieved
by Eric Toussaint
27 September 2010

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This speech was given at a special event of the General Assembly session of the United Nations in New York on 15 September 2010 [1].

- I. Despite the fact that the millennium goals are exceedingly modest, they will not even be achieved.

On a global level, the limited percentage decrease in the number of those living on less than $1.25 a day is the result of growth in China and India, [2] countries which did not subscribe to the Washington Consensus.

Humankind has the material capacity to guarantee a respect for every human being’s fundamental human rights that far exceeds the modest Millennium Goals. It is clear that the problem is not a lack of resources.

- II. The explanation given in the papers produced by institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD is not convincing and serves to further consolidate the very policies which are at the root of the crisis, since they have weakened the countries that have accepted such policies.

The recommendations or impositions made by these institutions are based on several dogmas:

The first relates to the financing of development through debt. This leads the vast majority of developing countries to behave in an absurd manner. In fact, although developing countries - mainly exporters of raw materials and China - hold the vast majority of international reserves (mainly in dollars) identified around the world, they continue to further indebt themselves. What do they do? They buy Treasury bonds from the United States, thus they effectively lend money to the American government. They deposit these Treasury bonds in their central banks’ coffers and then issue public debt securities on Wall Street or on their own national domestic financial market. This situation is absurd: the Treasury bonds give a very low return whilst the bonds which the developing countries issue, and which are in dollars, allow creditors to earn considerably more because the interest rates are much higher [3]. The leaders of these countries would do a lot better to not get into debt and use the reserves for productive investments and social spending so as to improve the living conditions of their people.

The second dogma is that of free trade and free movement of capital, goods and services. In most industrialized countries freedom of movement does not apply to workers and citizens in general, whereas it was Adam Smith, an arch reference for neo-liberals, who advocated free movement and free establishment for workers.

The third dogma, in complete opposition to reality, is the idea that giving the poor better access to the markets will put an end to poverty, whereas the eradication of poverty is the responsibility of the State, to be achieved through structural changes that will put an end to social injustice.

The harmful role of macro-economic policies, as incorporated in the Washington Consensus, has been highlighted on various occasions in the past twenty years.

An example: the 2007-2008 food crisis

In 2007-2008, the number of people suffering from hunger increased by 140 million. This increase was the result of a sharp increase in food prices [4]. In many developing countries, this increase in food prices reached 50%.
 
Why did such an increase occur?

On the one hand, the authorities in the countries of the North increased aid and subsidies for the production of agrofuels (misnamed biofuels as there is nothing biological or « ecological » about them). All of a sudden it became very profitable to replace crops meant for human consumption with silage and oilseed crops or to divert part of the grain crops (corn, wheat, etc.) towards agrofuel production. This led to a decrease in food supplies on the global markets and thereby caused a global rise in food prices.

On the other hand, after the bursting of the real estate bubble in 2007 in the United States and, by contagion, in the rest of the world, speculation by the major investors (pension funds, investment banks, hedge funds, etc.) shifted towards markets where basic foodstuffs are traded, principally on 3 American stock exchanges specializing in grain futures: Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis.

As a consequence of policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, developing countries, now deprived of all forms of basic protection, find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. In fact, these policies have led to a reduction in land areas normally used for subsistence crops, to specialization in one or two export products, to the disappearance of price control mechanisms, to the abandonment of self-sufficient grain production and the reduction of their reserves, to the weakening of economies due to an extreme dependence on global markets, to a sharp reduction in social spending budgets, to the suppression of subsidies for basic foodstuffs, to the opening of markets which leads to unfair competition between local small producers and the multinationals… Masters in the art of pillaging, the institutions in question acknowledge certain mistakes in order to remain key players on the international stage. After they committed the crime of imposing an economic model which deliberately deprives poor populations of the most basic protection and leaves them at the mercy of the most aggressive speculators, their timid mea culpa in a semi confidential document is clearly insufficient.

According to the FAO, the situation improved in 2010 but it is clear that Objective 1 of the MDGs will not be met by 2015.

After this quick analysis of the causes of the food crisis in 2007-2008, it is appropriate to cite Fantu Cheru, an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva who, already in 1999, wrote:
 
«Structural adjustment goes beyond the simple imposition of a set of macroeconomic policies at the domestic level. It represents a political project, a conscious strategy of social transformation at the global level, primarily to make the world safe for transnational companies. In short, structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) serve as “a transmission belt” to facilitate the process of globalization, through liberalization, deregulation, and by reducing the role of the State in national development.» [5]

-  III. We should not be misled into believing that these policies have been abandoned. Even if the World Bank and the IMF state that they have replaced the Washington Consensus formulas with other policies, the facts contradict these assertions. These institutions, as well as the OECD, continue to make the same recommendations which are often impositions. Such was the case in Haiti [6] or in Pakistan [7] in 2010, two countries whose citizens were seriously affected by natural disasters. The IMF also continues to support dictatorships: in September 2010, it decided to issue a loan of 192 million dollars to the dictatorial regime of Honduras.

- IV. Is the 2007 international economic and financial crisis behind us?

Three elements contribute to lighten the weight of the crisis in developing countries, though they are highly volatile, namely,
1. The high prices of commodities (which means a high level of international reserves);
2. Low interest rates and low country risk premiums;
3. Capital flow towards emergent stock markets.

When the central banks of the main industrialized countries (US Federal serve, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan) decide to raise interest rates, this will lead to a steep increase in the cost of refinancing of developing countries’ external debts and the price of commodities could plummet since it largely depends on the vast amount of money that is available on the international level and on speculation. Moreover, if the Chinese economy should go through a crisis, this could also result in commodity prices plummeting.

- V. We must go back to the recommendations included in the Declaration on the Right to Development that was adopted by the General Assembly in its 41/128 resolution on 4 December 1986. [8]

We must act both on the level of the international Community and within each sovereign State (each of which can take unilateral measures based on international law).
Article 1 of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development reads as follows:

1.2. The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.

Article 8 specifies: Appropriate economic and social reforms should be carried out with a view to eradicating all social injustices.

- VI. Concrete alternatives or recommendations that can be implemented either by the international community or by sovereign States.

Global taxes such as a kind of Tobin tax (on financial transactions).

Increased development aid to reach 0.7% of the GDP of industrialized countries (in 2010 OECD countries devoted at most only 0.35% i.e. half of their commitment); its conversion into reparation funds for damages resulting from the despoiling of peoples of the South by powers of the North over the past five hundred years.

A new financial discipline that would prevent any transactions with tax havens.

A redistributive tax reform in all countries.

The restitution to peoples of the South of goods that had been unlawfully acquired by ruling elites who placed them in countries of the North or tax havens.

A drastic reduction of military expenditure with saved amounts invested in social policies.
Auditing public debts to determine their illegitimate parts and then to cancel or repudiate them. In 2006 Norway unilaterally cancelled the debt of five countries of the South (Ecuador, Peru, Jamaica, Egypt, and Sierra Leone). Norway considered that the loans that had been granted had not been used to develop these countries; it actually acknowledged that they had in fact been used to help Norwegian shipbuilding and exportation. In 2007 Ecuador set up a committee for an integral audit of internal and external public debt (of which I was a member) that worked from July 2007 to September 2008 [9]. On the basis of the conclusions of this audit, Ecuador decided to unilaterally suspend the payment of a $ 3.2 billion debt [in the forms of bonds] and could thus save over $ 2 billion.

Setting up new institutions at the regional level such as the Bank of the South.

Replacing institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF with genuinely democratic institutions that adhere to the UN Charter and all international pacts and treaties related to human rights.

Regaining control of natural resources.

A land reform, distributing land to those who till it and thus ensuring food sovereignty.

The current climate crisis is affecting and will affect everybody, but people in the south will suffer more. We must be inspired by the conclusions of the summit of peoples on climate change that was held in Cochabamba in April 2010 on an initiative of the Bolivian government.

Yes, we can eradicate poverty and injustice but within a new international order and following an alternative development model that would respect nature.

New York, 15 September 2010

Translated into English by Francesca Denley and Christine Pagnoulle in collaboration with Judith Harris.

 


Footnotes :

[1See http://www.un.org/webcast/2010.html , 15 September 10, Special Event : Interactive debate on Democracy and the Millennium Development Goals. Special Event: Interactive debate on Democracy and the Millennium Development Goals.
[Webcast: Archived Video - English: 2 hours and 31 minutes ]
[Webcast: Archived Video - Original Language: 2 hours and 31 minutes ] Program: • Introductory statement by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Joseph Deiss. •Introductory statement by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon. • Introductory statement by the Chairman of the International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, Ambassador Jorge Valero, Permanent Representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations. •Statement by the Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Ms. Rebeca Grynspan. • Statement by the Permanent Observer of the Inter-parliamentary Union, Ambassador Anda Filip. •Presentation by Dr. Juan Carlos Monedero, Director of the Latin American School of Government, Public Policy and Citizenship (Complutense University of Madrid). •Presentation by Dr. Eric Toussaint, member of the International Council of the World Social Forum and President of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt. •Questions, answers and statements. •Summary statement by Mr. Luis Bonilla Molina, President of the Miranda International Center, Caracas, Venezuela.

[2China and India do not offer models to be followed. See Eric Toussaint http://www.cadtm.org/China-and-India-two-models and Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint http://www.cadtm.org/La-Banque-mond... (in French)

[3For more information see Eric Toussaint http://www.cadtm.org/Bank-of-the-South-international in particular point 2.C.

[4See Eric Toussaint “Getting to the roots of the food crisis” http://www.cadtm.org/Getting-to-the-root-causes-of-the

[5From the Report by the Independent Expert, Mr. Fantu Cheru, submitted in accordance with Commission decisions 1998/102 and 1997/103 at the 55th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Geneva in 1999. To read the whole report, go to http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/development/debt/annual.htm, scroll down to 1999 and click on E/CN.4/1999/50 in the right-hand column.

[6CADTM protests against the IMF’s loan and demands that creditors pay reparation money to Haïti http://www.cadtm.org/Le-CADTM-denon... (French only).

[7Damien Millet, Sophie Perchellet, Eric Toussaint, http://www.cadtm.org/Floods-and-Debt-Pakistan-under-a

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.