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Developing Nations' Debt - Steve Newton

A guest post from Steve Newton: 

An interesting issue for libertarians consistent with the concept the our concerns regarding the use of force and fraud do not stop at our borders.

The question: should libertarians support the cancellation of 3rd World debt?

To answer the question you have to know how most developing nations got into serious debt trouble, because it is a problem that is, in the main, about 50-60 years old. During the 1970s -- the era of the first OPEC oil embargoes, the oil-producing nations were literally awash with western cash. So much cash that they couldn't reasonably spend it all. So they put it into western banks in America and Europe, and the bankers went crazy. They needed to lend this money out, and there was such a glut on the market that they were stepping all over each other to provide the lowest interest rates possible.

This was BIG money, the kind that even a trans-national corporation couldn't afford -- the basic buy-in level was to be at least a small nation. So they went to Bolivia, they went to Gabon, they went to Belize ... Mostly they went to countries with authoritarian regimes (dictators being a favorite subset) that held power by force rather than by the franchise, And they lent these folks a lot -- a LOT -- of money. Most of which ended up in numbered Swiss bank accounts of the dictators and their families, with the people in the country being taxed to make the loan payments.

And all was sort of well for awhile, while the interest rates were low. But interests rates never stay low, and so the taxes got higher and the governments became MORE authoritarian, and more repressive, and the living condition of the people in the countries tanked.

So many of them had revolutions and threw the bastards out. The luckiest ex dictators got to go into exile with the proceeds of their numbered Swiss accounts. The new governments raised their flag and announced they were going work for lower taxes, better schools, and more hospitals.

Enter the International Monetary Fund, which said, no bank will lend your country a dime now unless you agree to recognize your national obligation to repay Citibank, and Deutsche Bank, and etc. the full amount of those existing loans, plus the new interest rate. "We don't have the money," says the new government. "The bastards stole it from us."

"Nonetheless," says the IMF, "they were the legitimate national government at the time, and they pledged the full faith and credit of Bolivia, Gabon, Belize ... to this debt, and you took over the country, so you now have to pay it back."

"We will need to refinance," said the countries' leaders, looking at their war-torn nations and the poverty abounding. "We cannot possibly do so at the current terms."

"To refinance will require you to undertake an austerity program," said the IMF. "Cut school budgets. Cut hospital budgets. Reduce tariff and trade barriers for trans-national companies that want to do business in your country. Sign ironclad agreements not to ever nationalize any of your natural resources. And then, only then, will we refinance and give you access to a small line of credit. But you must also pledge equity in those resources against the chance that you miss a payment because you are a bad credit risk."

So the new leaders, not seeing any choice, signed. And their countries declined into the state that our former President called "shit holes." And whenever anyone brings up the question of cancelling the debt for 3rd world nations, everybody pretends that "they borrowed the money, they have to repay it." "If they weren't so corrupt and didn't mismanage their finances, they wouldn't be in this mess."

Many of them now have authoritarian regimes again, in no small part because the more democratic, representative leaders couldn't hold their power against mercenaries and uprisings ... funded from numbered Swiss bank accounts and private military companies funded by transnational corporations. (See the Cabinda province of Angola for a truly inspirational example.)

It's an old model that the US and European nations first piloted against the Republic of Haiti for African slaves having the audacity to rise up against slave owners and then kick the shit out of three French armies sent to re-enslave them. The French got everybody -- including the US -- to agree to an international trade embargo until Haiti agreed it owed millions upon millions to compensate the former plantations owners for the lands and lost revenues, and to compensate France for the cost  of sending three armies to re-enslave them. So Haiti was, in effect, doomed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy ... a shit hole of poverty and dictators that stayed in power by taxing (and murdering people) to keep the money flowing into European banks.

So back to the question. As a libertarian, how can you not be in favor of canceling that debt? The people who signed for it used force to gain power. The IMF used the threat of both force and fraud to make the new governments agree to take over the debts of criminals. The people, who have to pay the taxes to repay these debts, NEVER received any of the funds, or the benefits of the funds, while the IMF used (again) both force and fraud to require them to restructure their economies to its satisfaction, while all the money flowed back into the coffers of Citibank, Deutsche Bank, and from thence padded the accounts of OPEC members.

*Note -- if you doubt that the IMF used force or the threat of force, spend some time looking up the relationship of the IMF to funding Private Military Companies like Executive Outcomes, Sandline, Airscan, Crossed Swords, and their later cousins Blackwater/Xe. It will take some digging but you can determine who covered their payrolls, operational expenses, and equipment all over the world.

Should the people of these nations so coerced and defrauded be held responsible for paying debts they never made, for proceeds they never received? 

(Hint: in the US after the American Revolution you can bet your bippy that every colonial merchant with debts to British companies stiffed them ... and it was considered the patriotic thing to do. Too bad for the Brits that the Bank of England was not quite as soulless and vampiric as the international Monetary Fund and transnational banks.)

If we truly believe that force and fraud are illegitimate wherever they raise their ugly head, and that taxation is theft, then shouldn't we argue that US policy should include (a) cancelling all 3rd world debt to the globe's poorest countries; and (b) while we are at it, putting the IMF completely out of business?