Wednesday 30 May 2012

Christine Lagarde, Greece and Niger

From the content of last Monday''s letters page I must be one of only a few (maybe the only one) Guardian readers who has some sympathy with Christine Lagarde's statement  that she thinks  "more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day,  sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education"  and who "need even more help than the people of Athens."

Yes, I know that it is the policies of the IMF (of which Lagarde has only just taken charge) that have been a major cause of world poverty: I have spent much of my life teaching about and campaigning for more enlightened policies.  But Lagarde can hardly be blamed for the past, and there are signs that the World Bank, almost certainly, and the IMF, possibly, are learning from past errors.

The fact it that the per capita income of Niger (in US$ using the purchasing power parity measure) is $800, whilst that of Greece is  over 34 times higher at $27 600.  ( For comparison the UK's is £35 900 and that of Malawi, where I worked as a VSO for a couple of years, is $900 - all figures estimates for 2011, source CIA World Factbook, which in spite of its dubious ownership, is regarded as reliable)

Those of us in the developed world should stop moaning, stop blethering on about austerity (few of  us have experience of real austerity, and that is a far cry from abject poverty), and by sharing our wealth more equitably we could all live in a state of luxury undreamed of by our grandparents, and still have plenty left over to help countries with real economic problems achieve a decent level of comfort.

If the Greeks paid their taxes (and yes, I know, as here, it is mostly the rich ones who do the evasion and avoidance) then there is no need for any of them to suffer real hardship, and the same goes for the rest of Europe and the developed world.    It is high time we changed our use of language  and began speaking, not of the burden of taxation, but of the privilege of having enough income and welath to contribute to the maintenance of the civilised society which makes our wealth creation possible.

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