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Friday, November 19, 2010

The IMF and the Famine: a replay in Ireland's history

Well, this week has been an exciting one in Irish politics. Basically, the weighty force of our EU "bosses" seem to be forcing Ireland to take a monetary loan. All this is well documented in the news, but a rough timeline for those overseas who may not follow Irish politics so closely:

-Monday, the various EU countries announce the media that Ireland will be taking a loan.

-Tuesday, the Irish government via the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) held a press conference stating that they are not taking a loan.

-Thursday, the IMF arrives in Ireland for an "assessment".

But there are several things to consider:

1. This relatively new republic (compared to the opulent Greece) has a much less luxurious form of socialism when compared to other EU countries. Beyond that, the government already cut EVERY public sector worker's pay cheque by around 10% last February, and has been slashing the budget for a while. Austerity measures are hardly going to help out here.

2. The public outcry to the spending cuts have hardly been a mew when compared to Greece and France. Yet the cuts have ALREADY gone fairly deep.

3. Unfortunately, the debt is nearly entirely related to taking on the banks' bad debt... which seemed pretty bad at the outset, but has since grown. Basically, the banks are accused of outright lying about the extent of their problems until after the bailouts started. And even today, the extent of the problems are unknown, as no one trusts or believes the banks. (Could the state sue the fraudulent bankers?)

Regardless, our EU neighbours have ganged up on Ireland and sent the IMF over to "have a look". Naturally, it is the loss of sovereignty that frightens the Irish the most. The IMF is not elected... and their decisions are non-negotiable. (The ultimate "said" goal of the IMF is to have the loan repaid as fast as possible... however, this is generally a business focused solution that does not take into context the social requirements of the culture).

Now to link the IMF to the Irish Famine... this may appear tenuous at first, but it is related to the loss of sovereignty in both circumstances. My linkages between them is 3-fold:

1. In Celbridge there is a monument to the Workhouse cemetery... which details how the potato blight caused the Irish famine.

2. I took an Anthropology class in undergrad (college) that linked the IMF (and World Bank) to Third World famine.

3. Argentina.

The Irish Famine:
The famine came about because the Irish were required to grow potatoes in order to get money from the British, with which they bought food. Any of the Irish who had their own farms did not suffer from the famine. They were able to grow all sorts of things (including peaches, kiwis, tomatoes... it's not all cabbage and carrots), so the potato blight didn't cause them to starve. However, the indentured Irish were required to grow potatoes for their food, and thus they starved during the blight. Enter the workhouse... out of the purest kindness... the British took all the starving families and let them live in the workhouse for food (the other alternative was Kilmainham Gaol). The conditions in the workhouses were hardly good and the life expectancy was only about 30 years... hence the cemetery.

The IMF:
When giving loans the IMF stipulates non-negotiable requirements "to ensure pay back". And in third world countries those requirements often mean growing coffee, chocolate, etc. rather than self-feeding crops. Without fairtrade pricing, these crops are put on the open market, and a surplus arises from the fact that the whole of Africa was converted into growing coffee... so you can buy your coffee at a "reasonable" price. It's basically imperialism all over again (over again... because most of the countries that the IMF has bailed out were previously the fodder of imperialist countries).

Photo: Worker's homes near Liberty Market in Dublin.

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