Theater of Cruelty

- Norway must cut trade restrictions

250 children die as a result of the Third World debt burden as you read this interview. Economist Noreena Hertz (36) uses 223 pages on the solution.


In the book Debt history Noreena Hertz makes a strong settlement with what she calls "the story of certain groups that enrich the masses". The history of state lending policy after World War II is a disgusting story of how the United States and the Soviet Union used lending to acquire obedient chess pieces during the Cold War. It is the story of how private banks, speculators, corrupt dictators, weapons manufacturers and multinational companies have filled the pockets with money that would go to the world's poorest. And that is the story of how the debt burden erodes social structures and forces governments to reduce funding for schools, hospitals and social services. Which in turn leads to a flurry of epidemics, environmental devastation, extremism and ultimately terrorism, Hertz believes.

The world's poorest countries have debt of $ 458 billion, while 19 of the 27 countries receiving debt relief still use over ten percent of government revenue to repay debt. Every hour, 1500 children die because money that could have been used to protect their health is used to service debt, Hertz claims. She has no hesitation in painting biblical downfall prophecies.

- I start just as well with the Bible.

- It is always a good place to start.

- You describe the problems and solutions to the debt issue in biblical terms. The "three riders of the economic apocalypse" are greed, myopia and self-deception, while debt relief, development aid and trade are "the holy trinity", which is necessary if developing countries are to succeed in rising again.

- It can be good to rely on a best-selling book like the Bible, and the book actually begins with a quote from Leviticus. It is actually not so consciously thought, but in retrospect I have realized that biblical references can be a great advantage both linguistically and for politicians in their respective constituencies. The United States, for example, plays an important role in the global fight for debt relief, and one of the main challenges is to convince the powerful Christian communities to come on board. The question of debt is largely decided by people who identify with the Bible, and then one must to some extent use their own language and their own rhetoric

- And what about the actual metaphor consumption?

- The Holy Trinity is definitely the solution. Today's u-help is like a big bucket with holes, where the u-help flows out as fast as it comes in. We need both debt relief and increased development assistance, because without thorough investment in health, education and infrastructure, several states are in danger of collapsing. When it comes to trade, it is important for the West to think about who you buy goods from. Norway, for example, buys 75 percent of its sugar from the well-known sugar producer Denmark. It was very surprising to me, when the sugar trade is actually about life and death for many residents of developing countries. When it comes to the three riders of the apocalypse, the story of debt is precisely about greed, myopia and self-deception. The story of debt is about short-term interests of small groups, rather than long-term strategies for the whole world.

- The book was written before the US presidential election, and you write that you were full of hope that the president, whether it was Kerry or Bush, would find the political will to do the right thing. Are you still just as optimistic?

- I think the issue of poverty and debt is not about the right or the left in politics. Nor do I think we depend on any religious belief to see what is right and wrong on the moral compass in this matter. I have recently been in the US for three months in connection with the launch of the book, and then there was great interest from Christian radio stations and talk shows. The main problem with the United States is that the Bush administration clearly does not accept multilateral regimes such as the UN and the like, while I am also afraid that the aftermath of Katrina will eat up large parts of the aid budget.

- Back to the history of debt: You draw the lines between the bitterness that arose in Germany after the First World War and the situation in the third world today. The West has not won any conventional war over the Third World, but do we see the same impoverishment of "the defeated" as we saw in the interwar period?

- When we talk about debt, of course. Large debts can lead to both internal unrest and increasing resistance and aversion to creditors. This is not just about morality, but also about self-interest. In a global world, we stand side by side, and it is quite possible to see the connection between debt and poverty on the one hand and terrorism, environmental destruction and epidemics on the other. Poverty and ignorance provide a fertile ground for extremism.

- And in the background jokes the military-industrial complex?

- Clearly. Sub-Saharan Africa has about $ 200 billion in debt, as much as US military spending in Iraq last year. If this debt is written down, it will cost creditors a new 24 billion – as much as 16 stealth bombers. Total arms sales last year were $ 900 billion. It is mostly arms manufacturers and Western industry that have made money from development aid and lending policy. Development aid must also be smart, because this is not just about money, but about what we support. Whether it means that loans have to go through international funds or other mechanisms is not so important, what matters is that we make sure that the money reaches those who need it.

- You have already called on the incoming Norwegian government to work for the Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to recognize that part of the country of the poor is illegitimate, ie given on the wrong basis. You have also been encouraged to do something about the financial terms that come with debt relief and assistance. Do you have more input for our new red-green government?

- It is a radical and courageous choice to fight the ideological dominance of the IMF and the World Bank. If we go further, I think the trade restrictions will be the toughest challenge for the Norwegian government, but here Norway has a great responsibility. All countries in the world should have the opportunity to fight their way out of poverty in their own way. And when it comes to Norwegian protectionism, the government must think of all those affected in the world. These trade restrictions will disappear anyway, there is no question that the international community will allow such subsidies and restrictions as Norway operates with. A change will force itself forward in five to ten years anyway. So why not be ahead? Invest in organic and innovative agriculture, which can be sold in an increasingly demanding and critical market. It is fundamentally wrong that poor countries cannot sell their products to us. Norway must open up its markets and stimulate innovation in agriculture. We can not preventing trade in poor countries, and in the long run this is also in Norway's favor.

- Are we now going in the right direction worldwide?

- The debt relief we have experienced in recent years, as well as the British government's admission that parts of the debt are illegitimate, is a small step in the right direction. But when it is still about a child dying every 3,5 seconds instead of every three seconds, it becomes clear that we are not doing enough. It is as if we should have been happy with a plan for 15 percent fewer people to be killed in German concentration camps during World War II. It's obviously not good enough!

You may also like