By David Dyssegaard Kallick
Tell me about Results.
Results is a grassroots citizens' advocacy organization, with 140 [affiliates in] US cities, 5 others in industrialized countries.
What's going on around debt relief?
It's clear that there's been a building movement on debt relief/cancellation. We've been trying to say: debt relief under what conditions? What's the context?
For years, we'd been working on other ways to aid developing countries: tuberculosis control, micro-credit lending programs, [etc.]. [But] it just gets clearer and clearer that if we don't address the underlying structural issues - debt burden, the way it puts them in a position that they are controlled by foreign institutions - you can make incremental progress on other issues, and that can be wiped away, [it can] even go in the other direction.
[So now,] we're kind of doing some of both...It doesn't make sense to work on those specific issues if you're not also working on the underlying issues that could wipe [progress] away.
Debt looked like where we could make some difference. Not so much: these countries need debt relief. But [rather]: what does debt relief mean? Does that mean increased resources and autonomy? Or does it mean debt relief is leveraging increased control by the IMF. We need debt relief de-linked from these institutions.
Would reducing the debt solve the problems? Wouldn't many of the countries be faced just need to borrow money and start the cycle again?
What the debt does [is, it] robs resources that could be utilized in other ways. In addition, and this isn't necessarily raised in grassroots campaigns , but the debt - and even debt relief as it is now done - leverages control for the IMF.
If you could actually cancel these debts, that doesn't mean there aren't public and private institutions and policies that are still going to be looking to [appoint] someone as overseeers of these countries. [But] you'd be decreasing the leverage of these institutions.
[It's true, that] you'd probably be stuck in the same model - if you look to the same kinds of institutions for new loans.
[But] literally freeing up the resources could make some difference in these countries. Even on stability. It would at least temporarily reduce one of the leverages of external institutions. That's a start. How do we go in the right direction? It's hard right now when countries are just trying to patch together financing and meet the conditions.
One room is created for maneuvering, do you have a sense of what the alternative path would be?
That's not really explicit enough in the US organizing. I think that's really a problem in the US - too many groups have tended to say the problem is debt, when that's not really the problem. The problem is neoliberalism - the economic philosophy that's being pushed on these countries - and the control by unaccountable institutions whose goal is not the well-being of the entire population.
Is anyone you know about pursuing this angle of arguing about strategies or philosophies of economic development?
I think there's potential. I think Congress is very open to hearing that.
A lot of people say: well I know it's not perfect, but let's just get debt relief. Or: get debt relief under the present system, and then we'll think about real reform later. But as a campaign you could unintentionally solidify the control of multinational institutions that push this neoliberal economic model. The jubilee movements in the south have clearly said their work is not just debt reduction, it's also to get out from under the thumb of the IMF and the US.
It seems that in the global South, organizing tends to be against neoliberalism, but in the US it tends to be against the IMF - and that the message people here are getting is more "cancel the debt" than "end the domination of neoliberal policy."
That has not been our message but, yes, the loudest voices in the US on debt "relief" have had that message.