The crisis reaches far beyond the European Union

19 October 2011 by Eric Toussaint

Even if Europe is hard hit, the crisis by no means limited to the European Union: almost all the industrialized economies are in a state verging on coma. Depending on the country, unemployment remains high or is increasing. Even in the so-called emerging countries including BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the strong growth is tending to slow down. The world’s stock exchanges, with few exceptions, have fallen heavily in 2011 -15% in the eurozone, Japan and China; -4% in the USA; -8% in the UK; -22% in Brazil; -19% in Russia; -7% in India. Gold, a hedge value in times of crisis, has been in strong demand.

What is striking is the very erratic nature of an important series of markets; Stock exchanges slide with temporary rebounds; the dollar is plummeting but rallies at times; the parities between the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound and the Swiss franc (another hedge value) are very unstable; raw materials prices remain high but suffer severe irregularities. The banks are the weak links, totally shored up by the authorities.

From the point of view of North-South relations, the economic situation of the developing and emerging countries is enviable compared with that of the North  [1]. If the state of exchange reserves may be considered an indicator, the emerging countries hold twice as much as the industrialized countries. They have 6,500 billion dollars in exchange reserves (China holds half, India 400 billion, Brazil 350 billion and Russia 500 billion) compared to 3,200 billion for the North (Japan holding one third of it). The G20 G20 The Group of Twenty (G20 or G-20) is a group made up of nineteen countries and the European Union whose ministers, central-bank directors and heads of state meet regularly. It was created in 1999 after the series of financial crises in the 1990s. Its aim is to encourage international consultation on the principle of broadening dialogue in keeping with the growing economic importance of a certain number of countries. Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, USA, UK and the European Union (represented by the presidents of the Council and of the European Central Bank). club, which is just as illegitimate as the G7 that founded it, is incapable of finding solutions.

Heavily indebted rich countries (HIRC), is the very latest fashionable expression, overriding another that has been in mode for the last fifteen years in the corridors of the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
and the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, heavily indebted poor countries Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
In 1996 the IMF and the World Bank launched an initiative aimed at reducing the debt burden for some 41 heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), whose total debts amount to about 10% of the Third World Debt. The list includes 33 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The idea at the back of the initiative is as follows: a country on the HIPC list can start an SAP programme of twice three years. At the end of the first stage (first three years) IMF experts assess the ’sustainability’ of the country’s debt (from medium term projections of the country’s balance of payments and of the net present value (NPV) of debt to exports ratio.
If the country’s debt is considered “unsustainable”, it is eligible for a second stage of reforms at the end of which its debt is made ’sustainable’ (that it it is given the financial means necessary to pay back the amounts due). Three years after the beginning of the initiative, only four countries had been deemed eligible for a very slight debt relief (Uganda, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique). Confronted with such poor results and with the Jubilee 2000 campaign (which brought in a petition with over 17 million signatures to the G7 meeting in Cologne in June 1999), the G7 (group of 7 most industrialised countries) and international financial institutions launched an enhanced initiative: “sustainability” criteria have been revised (for instance the value of the debt must only amount to 150% of export revenues instead of 200-250% as was the case before), the second stage in the reforms is not fixed any more: an assiduous pupil can anticipate and be granted debt relief earlier, and thirdly some interim relief can be granted after the first three years of reform.

Simultaneously the IMF and the World Bank change their vocabulary : their loans, which so far had been called, “enhanced structural adjustment facilities” (ESAF), are now called “Growth and Poverty Reduction Facilities” (GPRF) while “Structural Adjustment Policies” are now called “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper”. This paper is drafted by the country requesting assistance with the help of the IMF and the World Bank and the participation of representatives from the civil society.
This enhanced initiative has been largely publicised: the international media announced a 90%, even a 100% cancellation after the Euro-African summit in Cairo (April 2000). Yet on closer examination the HIPC initiative turns out to be yet another delusive manoeuvre which suggests but in no way implements a cancellation of the debt.

List of the 42 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries: Angola, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoro Islands, Congo, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia.
(HIPC). Public and private debt is the mainstay of the crisis.

Taking into account the relations between social classes on a planetary scale, everywhere the ruling classes increase their wealth, using the crisis to increase the precarity of workers and small businesses. In the North Atlantic countries and those of Central and Mediterranean Europe public debt repayment is the pretext for imposing new waves of austerity measures. The cost of the catastrophes produced by the private financial system is systematically loaded onto public authorities that in turn pass it on to the workers and small independent earners (by way of taxes, cuts in social spending and redundancies). Social inequalities are aggravated. The social movements of those at the bottom meet with the greatest of difficulties to create coherent resistance not to mention the creation of a counter-offensive. New phenomena of street demonstrations appear in the wake of the Arab spring. The indignados movement has become important in Spain as it has in Greece, finding an echo in the USA and on other continents. These movements, although very important, are not yet sufficient to turn the tide. They need to be actively supported. As far as it goes the turnout for the 15th October is a promising success.  [2].

Translated by Mike Krolikowski


[1On internet, see « The debt in developing countries: a dangerous unconcern », 29 December 2010. See also: Damien Millet, Daniel Munevar, Eric Toussaint, « Les chiffres de la dette 2011 », 19 April 2011. In books, see Damien Millet et Eric Toussaint (eds.), La dette ou la vie, Aden-CADTM, 2011, chapter 18. Essential note: although the traditional economic indicators show sustained growth in the emerging countries, the food crisis (important rises in prices) is hitting a great part of the population of the South. Climate change also degrades the living conditions of the populations of several particularly hard-hit countries. The frenetic exploitation of certain natural resources caused by the high prices of raw materials is the cause of increasing human and environmental damage. In particular, open pit mining and petroleum exploitation in sensitive areas (i.e.: the Niger delta).

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 Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), 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, etc.
See his bibliography:
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. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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