Governments not IMF, at root of world poverty

Casey Jenkins

The assumption that nongovernmental organizations like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank dictate the deplorable conditions in certain countries is wrong. The governments of these countries dictate the conditions. The IMF and World Bank lend money; in doing so they sometimes indirectly lend support to corrupt governments. To that extent the IMF and World Bank are part of the problem, but they are not the central issue.

People can reject the global economy, as some protesters encourage, but these countries will not. They look at Western society with envy and resentment. As ugly as it sounds, the governing classes in these places want what we have. Shouldn’t we protest against these governments and their elites as well as the international NGOs that indirectly subsidize them?

At the most granular level, globalization is the best hope for improving the standard of living for the greatest number of people. To stand up in the global market, these countries must be able to compete and bargain with the wealthy nations of the world. Including these markets in the world economy gives the greatest number of people the chance for improvement.

While these NGOs are indeed capitalist machines (consider briefly where we live), they are not all heartless. Human rights and support of democracy are not necessarily in these organizations’ charters; however, they have made strides to support human rights in countries where they become involved. The IMF, for example, refused lending to Indonesia because of its violent actions in East Timor.

The main argument against some NGOs is not that they support child labor or violate human rights, but that they are rich men’s clubs set according to rich men’s rules, which tend to leave the poor at a disadvantage. How is this different from the plight of the poor in this country?

The Mobilization for Global Justice’s Web site offers lots of reasons to fight the IMF and World Bank — but no solutions. It is one thing to stand up against imperialism, sweatshops and child labor, but if you offer no viable solutions the value of your contribution is limited.

Truth is, no easy answers exist.

If we dictate, even for the sake of human rights, how the money lent to these governments is spent, that is imperialism. If we totally cut them off, they will be worse off than before. Alleviate their debts? Are the wealthy nations willing to accept default on that scale? If NGOs are shut down, what will happen to the poor?

The best hope for ensuring human rights in the global village is to improve governance on all levels. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan laid out last week the most workable framework for addressing this issue: “The issue is primarily one of governance — how the international community of sovereign states and multilateral organizations copes with global challenges, and how individual nations manage their own affairs so as to play their part, pull their weight and serve their peoples.”

Corrupt governments in developing countries bear far more responsibility for the state of their countries’ underprivileged than the World Bank or IMF. Drawing attention to a problem is one thing; working to solve it before retreating back to a cozy middle-class American life is another.