I have started interpreting Thursdays as days when I tell you about something I have read more generally. Naughty, I know! Soon we’ll be back to some exciting books; did you know that the Geek Manifesto is coming out? But for now, I’ll have to stick with the broad definition.
About a week ago, Christine Laragrde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), really put her foot in it by saying in an interview for the Guardian that she is more worried that African children have no clean drinking water than about the Greeks. This is obviously wrong for someone in her position but then compared to what the IMF and its directors have done in the past it is probably not out of scale.
Apart from that, this statement was wrong because it transmuted a structural, economic problem into a moral one. How so? Well, the moral issue in this statement is about the relative value of suffering. Is it more justifiable and right for Greek children and older people to starve in Europe than for African children to be thirsty? Once put like that, this statement has absolutely no ‘leg to stand on’: it seems to me that the two are equally wrong and there is no moral justification for giving priority to either.
There was an undercurrent in Lagarde’s statement as if the starving people in Greece should be held responsible for their situation because of a problem with tax evasion. Here she is also wrong: tax evasion is a structural problem that comes about because of incompetence, lack of infrastructure and corruption. These are all characteristics of governments. I would agree though that the Greeks know how to elect them (who am I to talk anyway; the recent behaviour of our government in the UK doesn’t really inspire confidence).
Lagarde was wrong because when it comes to blame in both cases it is with governments. Greek people are suffering economic hardship because of government’s failure to collect taxes; African children don’t have drinking water because of corrupt governments, on-going tribalism and war, and extreme inequality.
But this is not all. Lagarde, in fact, should be much more concerned about Greece than about drinking water in Africa because of the potential consequences. Many personal finance bloggers shy away from mixing the economy and politics. I have never been able to understand why; aren’t these two faces of the same coin. Isn’t it true that the state of the economy is linked to certain political developments?
History tells us that whenever there is economic hardship we ought to expect some political trouble; be it extreme governments on the political left or right, civil unrest or dictatorships. Political unrest and revolutions are not the act of deprived people; these are the organised reaction of people whose living standards have declined sharply.
Such sharp decline in living standards we see in the South of Europe: Greece, Spain, Portugal, partially Italy. There has already been unrest in all these countries. To top it all, they all have a history of dictatorship: the rule of the colonels in Greece, Franco in Spain, and military dictatorship in Portugal.
Given that, if I were Christine Lagarde, I will worry much more about the hardship of the Greeks than about water in Africa.
Most people have been brainwashed into thinking that it is unfair for the rich countries in Europe to support the poor South. This is like being told that you are terminally ill and worrying about your pension!
What do you think?