Tag Archives: poverty

What They Want Us to Know

13 Jul

I don’t know about you, but I’m a compulsive reader. I get antsy if I don’t have at least 2 books going, and books waiting to be read are like money in the bank.  Just back from 2 weeks vacation in Barbados,  I’ve had lots of time to read for pleasure, sitting in the sun.  One of the most unlikely things I read however, was sitting in a banker’s office, doing some “in-person transactions” that had been on hold for some time.

CMMB, a Caribbean-based money market brokerage firm, publishes a quarterly magazine, which this quarter posed the question “Are Multilateral Institutions Still Relevant?” A range of highly technical economic policy articles make up the special feature section, covering such issues as the relevance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in supporting development, and the various experiences of Caribbean nations who had been involved in IMF-driven policy.

Now, please remember I was on vacation! At the time, it was interesting to note that while much of the analysis seemed to indicate that Caribbean countries performance under IMF-sourced policies had been mixed at best, and poor in many cases, the IMF Deputy Division Chief – Caribbean Division was quick to note how the IMF was “evolving” to support “spending on the social sectors and targeted support for the poor”. However articulated, it was clear that this was the new drum to march to, despite a less than stellar track record across many developing nations who had tussled with the IMF in decades past. That said, I think it was out of my mind by that afternoon, as I dived back into vacation-approved reading (aka the chicklit novel!).

Fast forward to this week, when having received my summer reading list for the upcoming term, there was Globalization and Its Discontents, authored by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Laurate and one-time Chief Economist at the World Bank.   Mr. Stiglitz’s book reflects a critical perspective on the policies of the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO), and focuses on how these multilateral institutions have in fact contributed to poverty and economic instability in a number of developing countries, rather than improving those very circumstances as was their official mandate.

Weird how time and space collide, isn’t it? There I’d been on vacation at the CMMB office, thinking how strange it was that the IMF was interested in poverty, when anyone living in the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s seemed to equate “IMF” with doom and destruction. And here was Mr. Stiglitz asserting that no, it hadn’t been my imagination.

So, why is this a big deal? Who cares what one dusty economist (no offense Mr. Stiglitz) wrote about some other dusty economists back in 2001? That was like, before Facebook and Twighlight, dude.

Well, here’s why it matters – policy affects people.  Tackling poverty is going to take policy, yes, but it’s also going to take insight, and empathy, and money, and cultural awareness, and local empowerment, and people.  As a result, we all have a responsibility to pay attention to what’s really happening, not just what they want us to know. Many of you who will read this post live in the “developed” world.  It’s your governments and leaders who weigh in on the boards of organizations like the IMF and the WTO.  They help set the policy, and not always in favour of those most in need of help. It’s up to us to pay attention. Get out there and read something, then who knows, maybe you’ll do something.

See you out there!