Years ago I was drinking sangrias at a cock fight outside of Cuernavaca, Mexico, with a guy who had just gotten fired from the Mexican finance ministry (long story, don’t ask).
Among other things we talked about (like why did you take me to a cock fight?) also asked him why he got fired. He said something like, “The US is in a financial crisis, and whenever your economy stumbles, ours collapses. You are like a giant water buffalo and we are the little animals that live in its coat. When you are healthy, we are fine. But if you fall over, or run stupidly into a fire, you get hurt, but we burn up. We are your needed, but unwanted bastard step-child.”
That was a long time ago and the financial crisis passed and now we are in another one. But our conversation has been haunting me as our nation is once again mired in the worst financial briar patch in generations. I wonder how my friend is doing these days?
During the fake money boom years of the
The second thing is trade. Developing countries are like export platforms to places like the
The third thing is remittances, Those are the extra money that immigrants send home after cleaning toilets in
As if we didn’t need any evidence, a recent study put out by the British Institute for Development Studies showed that underclasses in poor countries are eating less often, pulling their children out of schools to work the fields, and families are being broken up as husbands are forced to leave home looking for work. Remember too, that in addition to the present crisis, last year’s oil price spike and multi-national crop failure and creeping climate change, had already begun causing human destruction throughout the third world like a modern black plague.
So, what can you and I do about it? Well, the short answer is not much. On a macro level, even if the wealthy countries stepped up to the plate and spent the paltry $20 billion they promised in April to help the developing world (which they won’t) it still wouldn’t make up for the amount that has been lost by the decline in remittances. And if you and I gave more money to Church World Service (which we should), cumulatively it would help only a fraction of the people who have lost their homes to the global destruction.
What it would take in the long run would be a complete re-drawing of the global economic map. The financial crisis that we are going through is terrible, but it is a bi-product of a much deeper economic structural problem that until addressed will continue to force these wild and painful bi-polar economic mood swings onto the world forever.
Things like an international regulatory agency with enforcement powers which could reign in the banks who make dangerous obsessive compulsive bets with other peoples’ money. And do it with impunity because they know that they will always be bailed out by rich country governments if they bet the farm and lose everything.
Re-writing of global trade rules that are now subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) biased towards the countries with the most money (remember the Golden Rule: Those who have the gold get to make the rules). And an end to policies that force poor countries to continually over produce, which is good for us because we can buy things for less money, but bad for them because they have to sell things for less money.
Dismantling (and in some cases arresting) the oligarchies who have ruled both rich and poor countries (starting with our own) since at least the beginning of the modern age of globalization (which I put at August, 1982, but that’s for another time).
And a few others.
What small things can you do? Well, we’re not helpless. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do much. For one thing, if you have a job you really ought to be giving more money to Church World Service, or Oxfam or another fine development organization. It can’t save the world, but it can save a family, and that’s a start. Click here for Church World Service.
For another, there are several bills in Congress right now that are a down payment on a new international economic order and you can write your senators and representatives in support of them.
For example, Bread for the World, the Christian hunger and poverty lobby is sponsoring a bill that would completely overhaul and make more effective the way the
Second, JubileeUSA, known best for its relentless campaign to lift the crippling debts that have been drowning most of the developing world for thirty years, is still alive and involved in a number of important campaigns for better financial structure and terms of trade around the world. A good example is their “Vulture Fund” campaign. Vulture funds are the insidious, immoral companies that buy the defaulted debt of poor countries from the original lender, often for pennies on the dollar. Then they wait until a country receives debt cancellation from governments or international financial institutions and then sue in US or European courts to seize the newly available resources and make the poor country pay top dollar. It seems impossible to do, but they are doing it and they should be stopped. There is a bill in Congress about it now. Click here to go to their web page and get more information.
Interestingly, both Bread and Jubilee host a special Sunday for churches each year to highlight their issues in a worship setting. This year, by total coincidence, they have fallen on the same Sunday, October 18. This is a tremendous opportunity for you to lift up the global economic crisis and our churches’ response to it. Both organizations offer sermon notes, worship ideas, and Bible studies that can help you. Put the two together and celebrate the possibility of making a contribution to lightening the darkness of this global crisis. It would be a great way to educate and motivate your congregations on how to be a part of the global community.
Bread for the World Sunday
Jubilee Sabbath resources
When my banker friend down in
He laughed. “It’s you,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I said. “I’m just sitting here.”
“Seems like every time we’re around you Americans,” he said, “we start going off in the wrong direction. I think you are a bad influence on us.” He was kidding, but he also made a point.
Maybe someday—probably not soon, but some day—there will be a time when none of our children are step-children, all of us are in the same family, and all of us will be going in the same direction. It’s a possibility, it's worth a shot, and it’s worth a prayer.
 Dirk Willem te Velde, “Poor countries hit harder than expected by global financial and economic crisis” (Overseas Development Institute: June 04, 2009), http://blogs.odi.org.uk/blogs/main/archive/2009/06/04/global_financial_crisis_poor_developing_countries.aspx?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20090707
 Joseph Stiglitz gives a list of about twenty suggestions coming out of the “UN Commission of Experts,” which he chairs. See “A Global Recovery for a Global Recession” The Nation, July 13, 2009.