The G-20’s “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy,” held in Washington on November 15, gave world powers a chance to coordinate their responses to the burgeoning international financial crisis and accompanying ills in real economies around the globe but produced a long, vague, and telling declaration, devoid of meaningful commitments to change business as usual.
Even as more money is found to rescue yet another banking giant, additional resources are scarce for the developing world. Yet without strong action by world leaders at the Financing for Development conference in Doha, Qatar, which begins on November 29, this subject will likely be another victim of the financial crisis, with grave repercussions for global poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Africa, the poorest and least robust part of the global economy, could be the region most severely affected by the financial crisis that began in the rich countries and is now metastasizing into a global economic crisis. Its export earnings are being hit by the recent decline in commodity prices (some prices have dropped by more than 50% since July). Its access to international finance, never exactly robust, is receding: economists estimate that private financial flows to developing countries will be 30-50% lower next year and it’s not yet clear if aid and other official flows will fill the gap. In addition, the World Bank expects remittances from emigrants, which represent about 2% of GDP for all sub-Saharan African countries to decline, and that will directly impact millions of individual households. Growth rates in 2009 will be lower than 2008 rates, and inflation rates will be higher. These developments will set back African efforts to meet the Millennium Development goals and lead to an increased number of extremely poor people in Africa. And already 320 million out of a total population of about 500 million live on less than $1 per day.
The outgoing president appears unable to give up his belief in the “market fundamentalism” that has dominated the U.S. policy agenda for the past 30 years. With strong U.S. backing, institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have pushed governments to lift regulations on trade, finance and investment and sell off state enterprises throughout most of the developing world.
Just a few weeks after releasing its official forecast for the next year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) adjusted its growth estimates downwards, predicting that poorer countries will see big losses in GDP over the next two years as a result of the global financial meltdown. Independent assessments estimate that developing countries’ losses between now and 2010 will be in excess of $300 billion.
Rumors of the International Monetary Fund’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. While the IMF has spent most of the last three years looking for clients and “relevance,” the end of the U.S. housing bubble and the resulting global credit crunch seem to have given the institution a new lease on life.
When the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz said the great tragedy of Mexico was that it was so far from God and so close to the United States, the comment summed up the long and tortured relationship between the Colossus of the North and Latin America.
Following several weeks of widespread global financial turmoil, leaders of several of the world’s most powerful countries are planning a summit and a series of meetings to address this burgeoning crisis. The November 15 summit and an accompanying series of smaller meetings will weigh the potential for reforms of the international financial system. Some are calling these meetings “Bretton Woods II,” in reference to the New Hampshire conference held in 1944 that created today’s main global financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
There is broad agreement today that a market economy works well within a Western democratic system, but there is much less consensus over whether it can function effectively in an authoritarian state. The contemporary political economy of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) provides an excellent case in point. The Lao experience since the Communist takeover in 1975 suggests real limits to a development model that combines single party rule with market economics.