Battling Mainstream Economics
by Juliet ONeill
The faint moans of his daughter's cello practice barely break the hush of Michel Chossudovsky's household.
The kitchen, bathed in winter light, is gleaming. It is here, at a well-worn wooden table, that the University of Ottawa economics professor wants to talk.
The sunken-leather sofas of the living room -- with its gallery of African masks, Peruvian pottery, Chinese teapots and other treasures from some of the 100 countries he has visited --would be "too comfortable."
Stiff-backed chairs do feel more appropriate for the subject at hand: How poverty is increasing around the world and how this is not by accident, but by the design of a small, powerful banking and business elite at whose behest the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have provoked "economic and social collapse" in many countries.
The discussion is about widespread complacency toward what Mr. Chossudovsky calls a global financial crisis -- in which private speculators wield more power than governments over central bank coffers -- that may swerve into a crash far worse than the Dirty Thirties, jeopardizing pension and retirement savings funds.
It is about how so many people, expert and layman alike, accept a dominant "neo-liberal" economic dogma which makes suffering and sacrifice -- from unemployment and social service cuts in Ontario to mass destitution in Russia -- seem inevitable, if not justifiable and acceptable.
"Absurdity," he says. "I have difficulty in understanding why the dismantling or closing down of productive assets -- hospitals and schools -- could constitute the key to prosperity. But that is what is actually being conveyed. The official mainstream economic agenda is that you have to close down, downsize, lay off, and that is the key to prosperity."
Mr. Chossudovsky, a 52-year-old author who has learned to speak 10 languages and writes in three (English, French and Spanish), has persisted for three decades with an increasingly unfashionable perspective on world events.
It keeps him on the margins of mainstream commentary in Canada but wins praise from such equally anti-establishment social theorists as American Noam Chomsky.
He agrees to being described as having a leftist perspective, but emphasizes that he is not allied with any political party, including socialists, at home or abroad.
"One doesn't know who the socialists are any more because the socialists are all in favour of the neo-liberal agenda," he says. "If you look at socialists in Europe, what are they doing? They're adopting austerity measures. I wouldn't want to put a political label on myself because the neo-liberal consensus is supported by right-wing and left-wing parties alike, including the New Democratic Party."
Raised in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr. Chossudovsky followed in his father's footsteps by becoming an economist. But his father, a Russian emigre, made a career as a United Nations diplomat, while Mr. Chossudovsky put his economics training to use as a teacher and analyst. He came to the University of Ottawa in 1968, attracted by the promise of a bilingual lifestyle.
It was as a young visiting professor at the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, that Mr. Chossudovsky's interest in "economic repression" was first pricked.
Augusto Pinochet's military junta, which overthrew Salvador Allende in 1973, quadrupled the price of bread and introduced other measures that would now be referred to as "a structural adjustment program."
Mr. Chossudovsky set out, with a doctor, to study the malnourishment resulting from the bread price hike. He wound up with a paper that held the Pinochet regime responsible not only for conventional forms of political repression but for "economic repression" that impoverished three-quarters of Chile's population.
Since then he has documented the purposeful impoverishment of people in dozens of countries. His latest book, the Globalization of Poverty, contains case studies of the collapse of economies and social structures in Somalia, Rwanda, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Peru, Russia and the former Yugoslavia. In some of these countries, IMF/World Bank intervention preceded violent conflict.
He refers often to "the hidden agenda" of the big banking and financial organizations. They orchestrate collapses, he says, by demanding payment of debt service charges and then lending money to cover the charges but only on condition the recipient country impose such measures as austerity, privatization and currency devaluation. The impact is usually destructive: mass shutdowns, huge unemployment, a wipeout of savings and pensions and purchasing power, a loss of social services.
Such economic shock therapy, he says, has pushed Russia, for one, "back to the medieval era," impoverishing millions of people, deepening the country's foreign debt, driving more than half the country's industrial plants into bankruptcy and allowing organized crime to flourish in the banking, real estate and other sectors of the economy.
Mr. Chossudovsky generally condemns "the criminalization" of the global economy in which increasingly large amounts of drug money and other illegally obtained funds are deposited in the world's 55 offshore havens, escaping taxation. The funds are laundered through an international banking system in which capital movement is easier than ever owing to the revolution in digital communications.
"This critical drain of billions of dollars in capital flight dramatically reduces state tax revenues, paralyses social programs, drives up budget deficits and spurs the accumulation of large public debts," he writes.
An end to offshore tax havens is one of the few solutions Chossudovsky advocates. He also says the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and commercial banks should not be allowed to "pillage" the central banks of troubled countries.
He is much stronger on description than prescription. But his descriptions alone constitute a defiance of mainstream economic scholarship in which "critical analysis is strongly discouraged."
It has not, however, stopped him from teaching for 30 years at U of O and as a visiting professor in several other countries, as well as publishing several books, the latest appearing in nine languages. And while the mainstream media in Canada do not publish his commentary, he is published frequently in Le Monde Diplomatique and smaller magazines that don't have investors or business advertisers.
Prof. Michel Chossudovsky has documented impoverishment of people in dozens of countries.