Greece–Christine Lagarde goes all Marie Antoinette

by Matthew Payne on June 1, 2012Comments Off

UPDATED 6/2 for clarity

The coming Greek elections have begun to blow the lid off Europe’s “managed democracy.”  Christine Lagarde has had her “let them eat cake!” moment, which rather clearly indicated what the European elite thinks about the Greek people.  Everybody is keying on her hypocrisy (quelle suprise!) of accusing the Greeks of being a nation of tax dodgers while, wait for it . . ., not paying any taxes herself.  As Leona Helmsley pointed out long ago, “taxes are for the little people!’ (which is certainly true for Mr. Romney and much of oligarchic elite–capital gains, doncha know!).  But for me the point that stuck out was her callous comment that the Greeks didn’t deserve any sympathy because of the grinding poverty of a place like Niger:

“I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education,” she said in an interview with the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper published Saturday. “I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens.”

This is stunning.  In the first place, Ms. Lagarde’s IMF is rather materially responsible for creating the situation she decries in Niger.  In 1982 the IMF imposed the same sort of “structural adjustment” policies on Niger that it is now imposing on Greece.  Creditors were paid off at the cost of cutting social provisioning, emphasis on the export sector and the destruction of the nation’s subsistence agrarian sector.  Such wonderful prescriptions led to nearly doubling from about a billion dollars in 1982 to 1.8 billion in 1990.  By 2003 it had more than doubled again to $2.3 billion dollars!  So the IMF structurally adjusted Niger straight into debt peonage!  After many years of bleeding the country dry, Niger received some debt relief but with strings attached (of course, of course).  The most important strings were very high food taxes and the forced sale of the country’s grain reserves.  The famine of 2005 was the cost of that little adjustment (just as the same policy had caused to Malawi in 2002).  Famine hit again in 2010–with severe malnutrition of children under 2 reaching 50% in some areas.  In 2010 there was plenty of food available in the markets but privatization and speculation had driven the cost up much higher than Niger’s peasants could afford to pay.  Oh, and there was “donor fatigue” by the very same international powers-that-be that benefitted from this speculation in food.  Gee, you think the government of Niger (conveniently now a military junta which is, again, focusing on the export sector and privatization) might have been able to use food reserves to circumvent such distorted markets?  Nah. . . not in the IMF blueprint!  And now another famine is threatening up to 1.9 million people in Niger, who must be moochers or something to not be benefitting from all these fine ne0-liberal economic policies imposed on them by their loan shark the IMF.  Way to go IMF!   As Nick Dearden notes of the worst of these IMF-imposed famines, 2005, in The Guardian:

These policies fed into the 2005 famine, a crisis caused not primarily by natural catastrophe – food was available but unaffordable – but by an appalling set of policy decisions. Even during a crisis there was no let-up in economic dogma. The IMF told the Niger government not to distribute free food to those most in need. Today’s so-called “tough love” to Greece is nothing new.

Meanwhile, with the same kind of help, Greece is already getting more Niger-like:

Greece is broke and close to being broken. It is a country where children are fainting in school because they are hungry, where 20,000 Athenians are scavenging through waste tips for food, and where the lifeblood of a modern economy – credit – is fast drying up.–Larry Elliott, The Guardian.

Well, the Greeks are not yet at three students per school seat, but with the cuts to health and education, they are getting there fast (oddly–not–there have been almost no cuts to the bloated Greek defense budget).  When people argue for austerity and economic liberalization or other Tory measures, they are arguing for hungry, if not starving, children (after all, that shining beacon of ne0-liberal economic policy, the United States, has a child poverty rate second only to Romania’s in the developed world; Britain’s child poverty rate is expected to explode under austerity).  I suppose the 800,000 kids in Niger who were malnourished in 2005 with the aid of IMF policies is something to aim for!  Well, the soup kitchens are up and running so mission accomplished!  For Christine Lagarde to use malnourished and educationally-deprived African kids to pull a high-and-mighty on Greeks (malnourished and educationally-deprived children which, to be quite clear here, the organization she heads was and is instrumental in starving and robbing them of their schools) is far beyond the chutzpah of the tax-cheat sniff (from an obvious tax sneak).  In fact, it transcends hypocrisy to downright sociopathy.  Ms. Lagarde should resign immediately and if she does not quit, she should be fired.  No one this soulless should be in charge of any international organization tasked with promoting “development.”  The Greeks, I think, at least understand this malign policy for what it is and will oppose the IMF-ification of their country.