Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Debt audits and a new economic vision

Nick Dearden reports from an activist conference on austerity and debt in Athens

May 11, 2011
6 min read


Nick DeardenNick Dearden is the director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now. He was previously the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign


  share     tweet  

It will come as no surprise to the hundreds of people gathered for a conference I have just returned from, that Greece’s ‘bailout’ package agreed 12 months ago has failed to provide a solution to the country’s debt problems.

Organised by an unprecedented cross-section of Greek civil society, the international event launched the call for Greece (and now Ireland) to open their debts to the people of those countries for a public discussion as to how just and legitimate those debts really are. Campaigners from Brazil, Peru, the Philippines, Morocco and Argentina told Greek activists to ‘stand on their shoulders’ and not go through 30 years of devastating recession at the behest of international institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

The burgeoning European movement in opposition to debt repayments and austerity is making concrete links with groups from the global south, and it expresses a confidence and rationalism a million miles away from the governments of Greece and Ireland, which have followed policies which are punishing ordinary people in order to repay reckless bankers.

It is simply not possible that the policies being inflicted on Greece, Ireland and now Portugal will reduce the debt burden of those countries – the very opposite will happen, as was seen from Zambia in the 1980s to Argentina at the beginning of the last decade. Similar policies to those being inflicted on Europe saw Zambia’s debt-to-GDP ratio double in the 1980s as the economy shrank. Argentina defaulted on its massive debts in 2001, after a 3-year recession brought about by IMF policies. Like Ireland today Argentina was told it had partied too hard, even though the debt had been run up by a disastrous set of privatisations and a currency peg foisted on the country by the same IMF.  Its economy started recovering within a month of the default.

So why are these policies still being pursued? Almost every commentator has known from day one that the ‘bailout’ packages would not make the debts of Greece or Ireland sustainable. But delegates at last weekend’s conference were clear – that isn’t the point. The point is to recover as much of investors’ money as possible, however liable those investors were for the crisis, and transfer liability to society.

Even if Greece and Ireland need additional bailout money or restructuring through some sort of bonds – the same measures imposed on Latin America in the 1980s which created mountains of debt so big that those countries are still suffering the fall-out – the private investors will have been paid out. The argument becomes one between German and Greek populations as to who will foot the biggest portion of the bill, creating a dangerous nationalism already very evident.

European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Olli Rehn has continually told governments that these matters are best kept in the dark – public discussion is strongly discouraged. Those actually paying the price of austerity disagree, and campaigners in Greece and Ireland say the first step in   any kind of just solution must be a debt audit – modelled on those carried out in developing countries like Ecuador.

A debt audit would provide people of Europe with the knowledge on which to base truly democratic decisions. As Sofia Sakorafa, the Greek MP who refused to sign the bailout terms and walked out of the governing party PASOK, put it at the conference ‘the answer to tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse is knowledge’. Andy Storey from Irish group Afri echoed this, saying the purpose of an audit is to ‘remove the mask of the financial system which controls our economy’.

The results of an audit can be rapid and concrete. Maria Lucia Fattorelli from Brazil is a veteran of debt audits, and helped Ecuadorian groups conduct an audit endorsed by President Correa in 2008. The Economist called Correa ‘incorruptible’ when public spending rose, after his successful default on bonds following the audit. Taking action now could mean saving European countries from the three decades of stunted development experienced by Latin American countries.

But the activists gathered this weekend believed that a debt audit can be the start of something even more fundamental, a new way of thinking about economics. As Sakorafa put it, an audit is the start of regaining values and vision to show ‘beyond speculating market games, there are more valuable concepts; there are people, there is history, there is culture, there is decency’.

Such a rejuvenation of political vision is vital if the crisis is not to cause impoverishment and spur inter-European hostility. On Sunday Irish economist Morgan Kelly said his country was heading for bankruptcy. A secret meeting of European leaders on Friday night came to the same conclusion about Greece, a country we are told is losing 1,000 jobs a day and where the suicide rate has doubled. Portugal’s €78 billion ‘bailout’ package, which is dependent on a freeze in civil service pay and pensions and reduced compensation to laid off workers, and cuts unemployment benefits at exactly the time unemployment figures are reaching record levels, will have a similar impact. Everywhere emigrants are streaming out of these countries in search of better prospects.

No amount of compensation will repair the damage these policies will wreak on society – as delegates across the developing world testified too. There is no reason for Europe to wait 30 years to learn this lesson. A European and international movement must make up for the poverty of our leader’s vision. Such a movement feels like it may have been born in Athens.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Nick DeardenNick Dearden is the director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now. He was previously the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign


#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


42