A few days ago the Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, had the audacity to suggest that instead of resisting the neo-liberal austerity measures prescribed by her organization, in agreement with the EU and the European Central Bank, Greek citizens should focus on paying their taxes. Lagarde did not stop there. She later went on to add that she had more sympathy for ‘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’ than for the tax-avoiding Greeks.
Now, it takes some nerve for someone like Lagarde to make such an outlandish statement. In my eyes, there is so much wrong about her view of the world and suggestions to improve it, that perhaps in a short piece like this one can only begin to unravel the mysterious and deluded inner world where I feel the Head of the IMF lives.
For starters it seems to me that Lagarde has resorted to the most insulting national stereotypes to dismiss the authentic suffering of the Greek people. Perhaps in her surreal world full of pink unicorns and fairies where everything – well, everything but Niger’s little kids— is perfect, the austerity measures imposed upon the Greeks are nothing but a blessing. Perhaps Lagarde believes that a nation that in her twisted understanding of the Euro crisis failed to control its budget and debts deserves to be punished. Who knows, perhaps she actually thinks that Greeks never paid taxes and that even now they don’t.
The reality, the harsh reality away from Lagarde’s fairy tales, is that taxes in Greece have increased tenfold over the past two years. And this has been accompanied by an evisceration of state services. At the moment even having access to basic prescription drugs is difficult — a situation that is likely to get worse in coming months since Greece has not been able to make payments to some major medical companies that supply the country’s drugs for the past 14 months. At the same time, electricity, water, and VAT bills have gone up significantly, while income tax has rocketed.
Lagarde’s strategy of dismissing one problem (the Greek crisis) by invoking another one (the plights of Niger’s children), both of which are to a large extent a result of the sort of “free”market capitalism that the IMF has so enthusiastically embraced and promoted, is shameless and sickening, and disguises common underlying problems. In the make-believe world that Lagarde inhabits, globalization produces only wealth; poverty, whether in Greece or Niger, is determined by local factors.
As for her concern about Niger’s children — ‘I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens’ — she can only be kidding, really. I had the privilege to visit the Republic of Niger last July, when an acute famine threatened the eastern part of the country. An estimated 800,000 children under the age of five were at risk of starving to death.
The crisis was tackled by the combined effort of a group of charities, including Save the Children and Oxfam, and by the then recently elected government of Mahamadou Issoufou, whose efforts went largely unnoticed by the international community. And the IMF? That IMF whose director worries so much about the children of Niger was nowhere to be seen. More worryingly, although the worst of the crisis seems to be over, there are still around 300,000 children in Niger today at risk of starvation. I would really like to know what Ms Lagarde has done, or plans to do about this problem, other than “worrying” about it.
Maybe she could listen to her own advice to the Greeks about paying their taxes? After all, she has a tax-free salary of 298,926 pounds a year. Maybe that would not solve much, but it would at least allow her to lead by example. I am no economist, but I guess that a figure of at least 30,000 pounds a year could well sort out the education of a few of those kids in Niger, who she always has ‘in her mind’.
Perhaps more importantly, she should think carefully before arrogantly playing politics with the suffering of the good men and women of Greece and Niger, two countries that have become poorer as Ms Lagarde and her employers get richer. What her callous attempt at playing off Greece against Niger actually reveals is that the brutal neoliberal policies promoted by the IMF are concerned only with generating private profits, and will do nothing to protect citizens, whether in Greece or Niger.
A few years ago ‘fortress Europe’ was criticized for erecting trade and immigration barriers that would consolidate the wealth of European citizens while maintaining global inequalities. The EU response to the global financial crisis, however, gives the lie to the notion that even the protection of European citizens was ever on the agenda. The only fortress MsLagarde and her employers are interested in is the one being erected around private capital.
independentTagged in: Christine, Eurozone crisis, greece, imf, Lagarde