Globalization

The IMF Files: They Want to Believe

Andrew Berg, an International Monetary Fund African department policy adviser, is a nice man. I know this because he spent some time talking earnestly with me after an IMF press conference in which I'd asked a pretty confrontational question about Malawi, whose 2002 famine is often partly attributed to IMF (and World Bank) advice, and whose current bumper crops are attributed to ignoring it.

Berg looks a tiny bit like The X Files' Agent Skinner, but what this conversation [...]

Washing Down the Food Crisis with Corporate-Trade Kool-Aid

Kool-Aid ManIt's clear that one cause of the current food crisis is that poorer countries have been pressured into dismantling their food policies, leaving peasant farmers and eaters alike to bear all the risks of the extremely volatile world market. This has left corporations free to ship factory-farmed food to those countries, peasants free to migrate to urban slums, and corporately-dominated economic [...]

Mortgage Blues

Today, 2 million families face foreclosure on their homes in the aftermath of what should be called the “subcrime”: Many credit-poor families were seduced into buying houses with so-called subprime loans (pricier than most ordinary loans) that the lender knew they could not afford. The mortgages had interest rates that were initially attractively low, but which quickly reset upwards. Families living on the edge soon found themselves in an unaffordable situation—especially as other costs, such as gas and food, went up. Many homeowners are now caught in a squeeze that could cause far more homelessness than Hurricane Katrina.

And they’re not the only ones in trouble. Financial markets are melting down. To keep them afloat, the Federal Reserve and its counterparts in other countries have had to inject hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system. More than 140 companies have already imploded. Thousands in the housing industry are out of work. Economists fear a serious recession and are scaling back their projections for growth.

How was this allowed to happen? These days, instead of holding onto mortgages they make, most banks sell them to Wall Street. There, prominent firms make millions recycling mortgages into securities and other exotic financial instruments, often using them to provide financing for even bigger deals—and sanctioning the unrestrained greed and unregulated chicanery of the predatory lending industry.

It became a classic “the emperor has no clothes” story when it was revealed that many of those “asset-backed securities” had no real assets behind them. Suddenly, the paper proved worthless and the markets panicked. Soon there was a “crisis of liquidity” in financial circles, as it became clear that bad deals had been funded by bad debts. That’s where we are now: trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, as the markets melt down and mortgage companies that engaged in predatory lending implode.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Any society or civilization at any given time lives by a dominant framing story, a story that gives its common life a coherent shape and direction. That story will no doubt evolve and adapt over time, for better or for worse, borrowing from or reacting to the stories of its neighbors. To understand a society, then, and certainly to change it, we must make its covert framing story more overt and realize its power—sometimes awe-inspiring, sometimes awful.

For example, if our framing story tells us that we humans are godlike beings with godlike privileges—intelligent and virtuous creatures outside a limited environment of time and space, without potentially fatal flaws—we will have no reason to acknowledge or live within limits, whether moral or ecological. Similarly, if our framing story tells us that the purpose of life is for individuals or nations to accumulate an abundance of possessions and to experience the maximum amount of pleasure during the maximum number of minutes of our short lives, then we will have little reason to manage our consumption.

But if our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us, then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2007
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No Turning Back

This August I had the great blessing of participating in World Vision’s Triennial Council held in Singapore. It drew together almost 500 people—World Vision’s country directors and many staff, board chairs, and members from every region of the world, as well as the international board of directors who will guide and govern what has become one of the largest relief and development organizations in the world. World Vision has grown enormously, especially in the last several years, and is seeking to determine its future direction. The organization serves 100 million people in almost 100 countries, with 23,000 staff members and an annual budget of $2 billion. It was indeed a privilege to deliver the opening and closing addresses and to have many opportunities to interact with this extraordinary group of people each day of the conference.

I saw an organization in the dynamic process of moving from alleviation to transformation. I felt the passion of an international community of humanitarian faith-based workers who care deeply about the poorest children of the world, and who clearly yearn to embrace a God of justice, not only a God of charity. That was the call they responded to in Singapore. The response was especially powerful from those who came from the global South, where the churches are growing dramatically and the conditions of life for so many have forced the people of God to address the issues of global justice.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2007
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Class Matters

Danny Duncan Collum got it right in his article on media and academic bias in the service of free trade and globalization ("One Side to Every Story," May 2007). Probably some economists will cancel their subscription, but here is one who will eagerly renew!

Herman E. Daly
College Park, Maryland

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Sojourners Magazine July 2007
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One Side to Every Story

On the morning of Jan. 8, 2007, I was driving along a narrow, twisting, two-lane highway through rural Kentucky. I'd delivered my oldest son to school. I was still on Christmas break and returning home to work on a book proposal. The newly elected Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown was on the radio talking about "fair trade." It was morning in America, and despite the grey, sleety sky, I was feeling a rosy patriotic glow. Then National Public Radio's Morning Edition co-anchor Steve Inskeep turned to analyst Cokie Roberts for a comment on the Brown interview, and I almost drove into a goat pen.

Naturally, Inskeep framed the issue as a horse-race question. "Is the notion of cracking down on free trade a winning issue for Democrats?" But Roberts brushed such petty considerations aside and turned loose an ideological tirade. "It is in some states and in some districts, but it's a long-term loser," she said. "It puts them essentially on the wrong side of history with globalization." Having declared the spirit of the age, she continued, "Even though labor unions often lose with trade agreements, consumers gain." Roberts signed off with a stern warning to Brown and anyone else who might buck the corporate trade agenda. "Democrats have to be very careful here .…"

Roberts is, of course, the ultimate insider journalist, and her reporting usually repeats conventional Beltway wisdom. But she's not in the habit of issuing Hegelian pronouncements on the tides of history. Corporate globalization, however, is covered by a different set of journalistic rules. When it comes to the supposed benefits of "free trade," virtually all of the mainstream media have, for the past 15 years, shed their customary skepticism, embraced corporate economic orthodoxy, and brooked absolutely no dissent.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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Can Buy Me Love?

As an Indian American, the adoption of my daughter from India has been a defining experience in our family’s life. It has brought deep joys and hopes—and a simultaneous sense of sorrow, not only on her behalf, but for our underlying complicity in a world that makes adoptions necessary.

Long before we adopted, I sensed that adopting a child was one of the most ennobling acts humans undertake in their personal and public lives. Nothing seems more important than giving life a chance. However, in my exposure to international adoptions in the U.S., I realized that this presumably sacred and primal tie between adult and child was subject to the same corruptions to which other social relations are vulnerable.

The international availability of children lays bare the axes of power in the forms of choice, entitlement, class, and racial privileges located in the global North and West—and those of the powerlessness stemming from massive economic disadvantage, inhospitable cultural and political environments for women, and the effects of human rights abuses from foreign and civil wars in the global South and East.

It is against this backdrop that international adoption takes place. The number of international adoptions in the U.S. rose from 7,093 in 1990 to 22,728 in 2005. More children are adopted into the United States than into any other nation. This dynamic reinforces patterns of dependence and obscures more complex global relations. The “Third World” stands as a ready reference to mean poverty, squalor, human abuse, and hopelessness. The child is seen as the one in need and the parents are the rescuers. “Saving” a child out of this milieu becomes automatically understood as a sacrificial act. The First World becomes a one-way destination point for children from the global South. There is little effort to understand or affect the local conditions that move people to relinquish their children.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2006
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