Monday, June 13, 2005

Stiffing Wolfowitz for the check?

The self-appointed Guardians of All That is Good and Right on Planet Earth have agreed to forgive $40 billion in African debt to the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank. I'm seeing a lot of opinions on whether or not this is the right thing to do, but most of them, as far as I can tell, miss the point. Let's take it from the top:

First of all, the idea that the money was lent to "countries" is pure fiction. It was lent to politicians -- politicians who, for the most part, were exceptionally evil even by the standards of, well, politicians. Why should a dirt farmer in sub-Saharan Africa consider himself on the hook just because some dimwit in Washington DC (or Brussels, or London) gets off on subsidizing Lifestyles of the Rich and Brutal? And why does said dimwit deserve that money back anyway? Remember, he stole it from us before he sent it to some Idi Amin clone to blow on fast cars, cheap women, expensive booze and well-armed palace guards. Hell, these "loans" have been, to at least some degree, instrumental in keeping those dirtbags in power. And we want their victims to fork over? Idi sure as hell isn't going to.

Secondly, much of this graft was just corporate welfare in disguise for the countries subsidizing the "loans." Our Glorious Leaders are painfully aware that when they kite too many checks to Lockheed-Martin, the voters start wondering who's really in charge. But if the pork can be structured as "foreign aid," well, that's an Armored Personnel Carrier of a different color. Wire Idi a billion dollars -- he spends half of it raiding the loan guarantee country's clearance aisle for obsolete WWII helmets, air raid sirens and $800 toilet seats, the other half on a new Jag and a 1:1 scale model of the Taj Mahal for that occasional weekend getaway, and everyone's happy (or at least everyone who's not happy is confused enough not to raise a fuss).

Third, once the loans were made, repayment schedules were generally held over Idi's head as a way to buy influence: Do things our way, or we pressure you for repayment -- and let's see how the peasants react when you prod them to start producing enough to pay back your bar tab and make your mortgage payment. Hope that 75% off Deluxe Bunker Complex works for you. Well, when you buy influence, you should just go ahead and buy it, not pretend you're making a loan that you expect to be repaid.

Forgive the "debt" -- and close the checkbook. It's been a dirty game from the start, and the only way to clean it up is to let "foreign aid" become the province of private charities who help Idi's victims pull themselves up (because it's the right thing to do) instead of helping Idi keep them down (because if we don't, them Russians will).

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