Last autumn I set about researching an ‘Analysis’ feature for the March 2011 edition of New Internationalist magazine. It would be the next a series about the financial crisis and the Great Recession. In particular, it would try to account for the remarkable but (in the rich Minority World at least) little remarked-on fact that the poor Majority World seems to have escaped the Great Recession altogether. How was this possible? What did it mean?
Well, after digging around in the financial press for a good while (not an uplifting experience), the answer became glaringly obvious to me. For all the complexities that had brought the world’s financial system to the verge of complete collapse, the causes and consequences had as much, if not more, to do with politics as with economics.
Broadly speaking, the Majority World had already been through this kind of crisis before - the ‘Third World’ debt and Asian financial crises of the 1980s and 1990s respectively. These crises and the ‘structural adjustment’ that followed them had been at the behest of free-market or ‘neoliberal’ economic fundamentalism, policed by despotic political regimes.
So lethal were the results that these regimes were eventually overtaken by broadly democratic movements, making governments accountable that much more to their own people, that much less to financial markets. When financial crisis eventually reached the Minority World in the 2000s, the Majority World was therefore less vulnerable to its impact.
As the New Year turned and I reached my deadline there did seem to be one, all-too familiar exception - Africa. Ha! If only the people of North Africa and the Arab world had had a little more consideration! With the extraordinary events in Tunis and Cairo unfolding by the day, all I could do was tweak the analysis, in as much ignorance as everyone else as to where it all might lead.
Well, now we are discovering how the political establishment in the Minority World really weighs democracy and human rights in the balance with ‘stability’ and the vested interests of corporate globalization in the Arab world. Not a pretty sight. But if there is one thing that the people of the Minority World surely have to learn it is that accountability to financial markets leads nowhere at all.