Category Archives: Poverty

Don’t believe the IMF; it’s as neoliberal as ever


Yep, all that recent rhetoric about a “new and improved” IMF, an institution more congenial to people rather than banksters and neoliberal doctrine, is just a load of hogwash.

That’s the finding of a new study from University of Cambridge researchers who dove beneath the superficial rhetoric to find the same old beast lurking in the shallows.

From the University of Cambridge:

A new study, the largest of its kind, has systematically examined International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies over the past three decades. It found that – despite claims to have reformed their practices following the global financial crisis – the IMF has in fact ramped up the number of conditions imposed on borrower nations to pre-crisis levels.

The crisis revived a flagging IMF in 2009, and the organisation has since approved some of its largest loans to countries in economic trouble. At the same time, IMF rhetoric changed dramatically. The ‘structural adjustment programs’ of austerity and privatisation were seemingly replaced with talk of the perils of inequality and the importance of social protection.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology collected archival material on the IMF’s lending operations and identified all policy conditions in loan agreements between 1985 and 2014 – extracting 55,465 conditions across 131 countries in total.

They found that structural adjustment conditions increased by 61% between 2008 and 2014, and reached a level similar to the pre-crisis period.

The authors of the study, which used newly-available data and is published today [open access] in the Review of International Political Economy, say their findings show that the IMF has surreptitiously returned to the practices it claims it has abandoned: encroaching on the policy space of elected governments by enforcing free market reforms as conditions of lending. This is despite the IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde rejecting concerns over the return of structural adjustment: “We do not do that anymore”*.

“The IMF has publicly acknowledged their objectives to include creating breathing space for borrowing countries, and economic stability combined with social protection,” said lead author Alexander Kentikelenis. “Yet, we show the IMF has in fact increased its push for market-oriented reforms in recent years – reforms that can be detrimental to vital public services in borrowing countries.”

Although the IMF claims its programs can “create policy space” for governments, structural adjustment conditions can reduce this space as they are often aimed at an economy’s underlying structure: privatising state-owned enterprises and deregulating labour markets, for example.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

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Today in Euroausterity: € for Greece, Spain warned


First, the good news for greece. . .

Following adoption of yet more pay and pension cuts plus some take hikes and the promise to sell off more of the national resources, the Troika finally coughs up the cash.

From To Vima:

After an 11-hour meeting in Brussels, the Eurogroup finally concluded and came to a decision regarding the bailout review, funding and Greece’s debt.

According to the Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, 10.3 billion euros will be paid out to Greece in two installments; one for 7.5 billion euros in June and one after the summer, when a number of prior actions have been implemented.

In relation to Greece’s public debt, the Eurogroup chief stated there was an agreement for a solution in three stages, with short and long-term measures, as well as a long-term mechanism.

eKathimerini covers the downside for the coalition government:

[G]overnment officials admitted in private that the deal fell short of what they had been hoping for, particularly because the eurozone had resisted the IMF’s call for immediate and unconditional debt relief for Greece over the course of the program.

Another concern for the coalition is the lenders’ demand that it make changes to the legislation passed through Parliament on Saturday, such as lifting the restriction on the sale of nonperforming loans that are backed by state guarantees, before any funds can be disbursed.

Athens was also told that it would have to reach reform milestones in the fall before it could receive the second tranche of bailout funding. The first installment, which is set to be released in the coming weeks, will be 7.5 billion euros, while the second one will reach 2.8 billion.

The prospect of having to vote through more measures was not at all well received by SYRIZA MPs as they feel they have already taken on a considerable burden over the last few weeks, when they passed two multi-bills containing a wide range of measures.

Then on to Spain and that warning, via El País:

As if the European economy did not have enough to deal with, with stunted growth levels, a seemingly endless crisis in Greece and a global slowdown, the European Central Bank (ECB) has detected another risk: the populist movements mushrooming across the continent.

In its latest Financial Stability Review, the agency headed by Mario Draghi has alerted that growing popular support for these movements could delay what it views as necessary reforms. And the three countries where the political risk is higher are Spain, France and Greece.

“Reform implementation may have become more difficult, as political risks have increased considerably in almost all euro area countries since the onset of the global financial crisis,” reads the report, which was released on Tuesday.

“These rising political risks at both the national and supranational levels, as well as the increasing support for political forces which are seen to be less reform-oriented, may potentially lead to the delay of much needed fiscal and structural reforms,” adds the document.

Pope Francis lashes out at ‘bloodsuckers’


He almost sounds like Bernie Sanders.

From Reuters:

Pope Francis condemned “bloodsuckers” who grow rich by exploiting others on Thursday, saying making “slaves” out of workers and setting unfair contracts was a mortal sin.

Francis, who frequently speaks of his concern for the poor, appeared to be referring to the kind of grueling labor often done by poor migrants in rich countries across the world, but also to many other workers on precarious contracts.

During mass at the Vatican, he told a story about a girl who found a job working 11 hours a day for 650 euros ($729) a month, paid “under the table”.

“This is starving the people with their work for my own profit! Living on the blood of the people. And this is a mortal sin,” he said at the service in his Santa Marta residence.

“Without a pension, without health care … then they suspend (the contract), and in July and August (the workers) have to eat air. And in September, they laugh at you about it. Those who do that are true bloodsuckers.”

Quote of the day: Loaves and fishes? Hell no!


The Reverend Pat Robertson gives us his definition of true Christian compassion, via Wonkette:

“The bible says ‘If any man will not work, let him not eat. Now, that didn’t say ‘If any man will not work, let him go to the soup kitchen and let the government pick up the tab. That’s not, I mean it’s tough love. If the guy doesn’t work, let him not eat. There are a bunch of people who’re just bums, they’re trying to ride in on the charity of others. Tough love will say, ‘I’m not going to give you something. I was reading an article today about FDR and welfare, and he said that this is like, I’m paraphrasing now, but it’s like a narcotic that numbs people. You cannot continually give things to people who are down and out, you take away their sense of work and their sense of pride If these people are out drugging themselves, let ’em starve to death. I know that sounds hard, but that’s the way it’s got to be.”

A rare glimpse inside a dictator’s prison camps


Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte reigned as  dictator of Chile amd commander of its armed forces between 1973 and 1990, seizing power in an 11 September 1973 American-backed coup that ended in the death of the first elected Marxist president in Latin America, Salvador Allende.

The 11 September date of the Pinochet’s coup would lead some CIA analysts to believe initially that the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been carried out by Chileans as retribution for the earlier coup, in which then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had played a key role.

As many as 3,000 people were executed in the course of the coup itself, tens of thousands were tortured, and thousands more were “disappeared.”

Some of those who vanished first passed through concentration camps, and thanks to a rare video we now have a glimpse inside two of those camps, thanks to an East German camera crew.

From Journeyman Pictures:

Inside Pinochet’s Prisons: The horrifying story of what went on inside General Pinochet’s secret prisons.

Program notes:

In September 1973 Augusto Pinochet, backed by America, overthrew Chile?s Marxist but democratically elected government. Under his direct orders the Chilean secret police erected vast prison camps to detain left wing sympathisers. No-one was safe – doctors, lawyers, trade unionists and Communists were all rounded up in the night. Held without trial in Pinochet’s prisons they were brutally tortured and many executed; an attempt by Pinochet to stamp his ideological mark on the consciousness of a nation. Dressed in his pristine white military jacket Pinochet chillingly told the camera, “Marxism is like a ghost, it’s very difficult to catch – even impossible to trap.”

As the numbers of Chileans arrested and imprisoned grew into hundreds of thousands their communist allies watched in horror. The media was banned from Pinochet’s prisons, but the crew behind this film was working with East Germany’s Stasi intelligence services. They managed to persuade Pinochet to allow them into two of the camps. Operating on Western passports they made 2 visits, pretending they were producing Western-backed propaganda. It was a classic case of the cold war double-bluff. Though their permits said they could visit the camps, but not speak to the prisoners, incredibly the prison authorities missed that vital information.

Out of the desert camp come the faces of frightened men ‘ uncertain of the future Pinochet had in store for them. One by one they tell their stories to the camera. Some admit they are politically active, others say they were arrested for reasons as simple as having studied in Cuba. Some are old people, some are women. None know what charges they face, or when they will come to trial. The camp doctor describes the neurosis and mental illness suffered by the prisoners who can only imagine the worst of fates. Young men in particular are forced through ‘re-education’ and the camera captures groups of them marching and singing military songs.

Many prisoners had been held at the National Stadium many miles away. The survivors were the lucky ones. The film crew secretly captured what went on there with telephoto lenses. The powerful images show men kneeling with their hands in the air, being kicked and beaten with the butts of soldiers’ guns. Others show men being marched into the stadium stripped naked with blankets over their heads, their fate probably electric torture or death by firing squad. They only hint at the full horrific story of a cleansing of leftist sympathisers.

A transcript of the film is posted here.

Chart of the day: Neoliberalism and intolerance


From Neoliberalism and Symbolic Boundaries in Europe: Global Diffusion, Local Context, Regional Variation [open access], published in Socious, the Journal of the American Sociological Association, a chart illustrating the strong correlation between a national neoliberal policy agenda and intolerance toward the poor.

BLOG Neolkib
One of the authors of the study, Jonathan J.B. Mijs of Harvard University, describes some of the implications in an essay for United Press International:

In recent research [open access] with Michèle Lamont at Harvard University and Elyas Bakhtiari at Boston University, my co-authors and I link the success of Trump’s kind of politics to the worldwide adoption of neoliberal economic policies.

Neoliberal policies are government measures that shift control from the state to the market. Examples are the privatization of healthcare, the gig economy and the deregulation of the energy market. Our research describes how like the United States, European countries rolled out many such neoliberal policies in the 1990s and 2000s.

>snip<

Pushing education, healthcare, transportation and security into the market has introduced global economic forces into everyday life. People today work for companies owned by foreign investors. They drive on roads that are in foreign hands. They compete with workers from abroad or face unemployment because their jobs have been outsourced to a low-wage country. These changes force citizens to realign politically and reconsider their solidarity with others as traditional values and expectations fall apart.

Citizens’ diminishing solidarity with the poor, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments and the growing populist vote are different aspects of social exclusion.

The roots of modern U.S. neoliberalism can be traced to the so-called Atari Democrats, who decided to embrace Reagan conservatism and its relentless drive to privatization, adding a Happy Face sticker in their libertarian embrace of factional identity politics. It was the Clintons who campaigned relentless for NAFTA, just as Barack Obama campaigns remorselessly for the TPP and the TTIP.

Both Clintons and Barack Obama have embraced Wall Street, and Reagan was actually more tough on banksters, imprisoning scores during the savings and loan meltdown during his administration, while Obama’s justice department jailed precisely one bankster, and that one a whistleblower.

Quote of the day: Hillary’s neoliberal doctrine


From Thomas Frank in a Martin Karlin interview at Truthout, in which he analyzes the Clintons as exemplars of long-standing GOP doctrines:

The Hillary Doctrine was Clinton’s understanding of American national interest when she served as Obama’s secretary of state. The idea was that the US would henceforth be the world’s defender of women and girls. Hillary didn’t mean this in a general sense, however. The kind of women we were committing ourselves to specifically were female entrepreneurs.

The source of this notion of liberation through female entrepreneurship is the microlending movement, in which Hillary has been an enthusiastic participant for many decades. It arose as part of neoliberalism in the 1990s: The IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank would “structurally reform” a country’s economy, and to help out with the human dislocation that resulted, they would give microloans to small entrepreneurs, who were encouraged to start tiny businesses like gardening or handicrafts. Over the years, the microlending movement accreted all these details: The entrepreneurs had to be women. They had to be hooked up to a bank. They had to have a Western mentor. They had to have smartphones. And so on.

You can see the appeal of this movement: It’s telling you that the solution to poverty is not unions or government or anything like that, but for everyone to work hard and start their own businesses — and, incidentally, to extend the reach of Western financial institutions to every village on the planet. A pure win-win. Everyone feels good. Everyone feels virtuous.

Except for the people who live in those countries, of course, because they know it doesn’t work. You don’t build a country’s economy by having everyone buy a goat and sell milk to one another. All these people have to show for this strategy is debt. Some empowerment.