For those of you who did not see it last night, PBS had a program
on P.O.V. titled "Life and Debt" about the havoc being caused in
Jamaica by "globalization" and "free trade".
It was done by filmmaker Stephanie Black and had an interesting
interweaving of Jamaican farmers, former prime minister Michael
Manley, IMF deputy director Stanley Fisher and foreign people
vacationing in Jamaica.
When I first started watching it I thought to myself --
"oh here we go, yet another green agenda program" but
as time went by, I found myself re-thinking the issues.
What became apparent from the program is how a system seems
to have come into existence that is really set up to screw
the third world countries.
What happens is a country comes to the IMF for a loan. The
IMF says ok, but the conditions are that you have to lower
any barriers to imports (because free trade is a good thing).
The country says ok. So what happens is in comes a flood
of foreign goods, esp. U.S. food, produced by corporate
agri-business. These come in at prices lower than foods
can be produced domestically and as a result the Jamaican
farmers are driven out of business. At first I found myself
thinking -- "So what? The consumers are getting the benefits
of lower food prices." -- but then I realized the problem --
the U.S. exports are being produced with very large government
If that wasn't bad enough, the IMF loans to Jamaica are at
outrageous rates (19% was quoted) and there are clauses
in the contracts that Jamaica cannot loan the money out
at a lower rate to its farmers (so they could in theory
modernize their farms with machinery to compete effectively
against American imports). So the system is setup to *keep*
a 3rd world country in that position.
Then to top it all off, Jamaica had a preferential relationship
with Britian with regard to the marketing of its banana crop.
Apparently corporate banana growers who have large farms in
Latin/South America got President Clinton to challenge this
under the WTO rules and they won the case, so Britian had
to open up the market (perhaps some slight benefit for
British consumers, terrible for Jamaican banana planation
workers and owners who see demand fall). This change
doesn't benefit any U.S. farmers, only the corporations
who own the offshore plantations.
Now, I'm sure there are other sides to the story but it sure
made me wonder if the corporate Agribusiness interests
weren't influencing the IMF (and other bank) policies
sufficiently to slant the playing field in their direction.
For sure in my mind I don't think the IMF or the President
should be demanding that third world countries eliminate import tariffs
or that preferential trade relationships must be ended while the U.S.
and Europe are subsidizing agriculture to the degree that they do.
The show left me with the feeling that that the foxes have been
left in charge of the hen-house. Try to see it if you get a
chance. It may provide you with a good example of where things
Extropians would normally accept without thinking really require
a much more detailed analysis.
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