Marshall Aid for Balkans, Africa

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Apr 25 23:54:38 PDT 1999

Barkley Rosser asked me to come back on the question of SDR's and Marshall Aid.

There are several aspects to this question which I would like to clarify.

1) I copied an Albanian call for a Marshall Aid plan for the Balkans to this list. It was greeted with ridicule by the great and the good, which they have not been able to sustain.

Within the last few days the term has been used a number of times in the context of the NATO discussions, including by the Brits and particularly the Germans. The most recent context has been about the importance of a development plan including Bulgaria and Romania. This clearly is the price they are asking for giving territorial support to NATO perhaps in connection with over-flight facilities, or even the stationing of troops on the border with Serbia. Most importantly there will be a deal in formation and confirmation about how they will impede the transport of Russian oil up the Danube, multiplying the reasons why Russia for all the anti-NATO feeling there, will not find itself practically able to help the Serbians.

Now whether this will all amount to a Marshall Aid plan will have to be analysed. One parameter is the quantity of the inflowing capital. Perhaps people can do calculations about the relative contribution to the GDP's of the recipient countries of the original Marshall Aid plan to western Europe. No doubt the west will not wish to transfer more real capital than necessary to win the alliance of these relatively dependent countries.

Another parameter is whether all these bits of aid are grouped together conceptually in a total development plan for the Balkans. Highly likely. One, it looks bigger and better that way. If charity is to be given let it be publicised as loudly as possible. Secondly it is absolutely consistent with the economics and the ideology of late captalism that development *must* be on a supra-national basis. The whole aim is to promote trade across the region and especially with the EU.

I would like to emphasise that from the point of view of Albania, one of the poorest regions of Europe (partly from its incorrect socialist policy of virtual autarky but also because of capitalist encirclement) the request for major aid is a just and reasonable request. Those who ridiculed it as absurd, should I suggest, examine their reflex leftist cynicism and ask why they did so.

2) Will SDR's be part of a regional aid plan?

On this point Barkley challenged my assertion that the West had had no conceptual or practical problem in printing itself lots of IMF special drawing rights to cushion the effect of the oil price rises of the 1970's by dispersing the cost throughout the international financial system. In a cross disciplinary list like this, which includes self-taught people (like myself in economics) it may be irritating to experts in a subject to have to correct half-baked ideas. But it is a necessary part of the democratic strengths of such a forum, and correctly done, the process accelerates learning for all. The lay person's question or proposition, even if incorrect, may challenge an aspect of the received wisdom of the discipline, and the bourgeois constraints of the study at the time.

But to do so dismissively may also play into a sort of tribal pecking order culture in which certain correspondents are thought to be ridiculous and others not. This merges with the received wisdom of unanalysed leftist prejudices, and can lead to individuals getting scape-goated and suspended on other lists, if not this one. Carrol's peevish and insulting irritability is particularly culpable in this respect because it gives cover for certain moderators to foreclose debate around a small group of people who at the end of the day are a friendship circle.

It is quite normal that all of us select which correspondents we find most interesting. Carrol's proclamations of whom he deletes, when he has to delete 90% anyway as he has no organised facility for retaining and scanning mail retrospectively, are intellectually primitive for all his references to Plato and Aristotle, and could be met with other retorts. I suggest it is not the best way to grow intellectually old gracefully.

On SDR's then I must ask Barkley or anyone else if he can verify his assertion that none, or none to mention, were issued around the time of the oil price rises. I am surprised my memory should be at such fault here. Not impossible, but I have never been challenged on this aspect before. I suggest a solution is if someone can print a list of the volume of IMF SDR's authorised year by year since their commencement.

3) Financial credit. Doug's challenge that SDR's are somehow funny money, whereas greenbacks are not, does not bear examination certainly on marxist grounds, I venture to suggest. On marxism-thaxis I have defended Doug from the charge of empiricism and challenged his critics to substantiate it. They have not. "Wall Street" has frequent reference to theory, both marxist and non-marxist. However it is an emprical study if not an empricist one, and it specialises in Wall Street. What I am focussing on in this question is the process by which states underwrite credit.

>From this point of view I do not see what is different from other rules
they set about the issuance of money. The rules for the Swiss Banks have just been changed so that they no longer have to hold gold deposits to the value of 40% of circulating Swiss coins and notes. The main effect of this further step in the global demonetisation of gold is to put downward pressure on the gold price, as a raw material. I have missed the fine print of the decision but it is probably that the same total of reserves can be held in the form of other currecies, and quite possibly SDR's. (If not, it means that the Swiss can print more francs, thereby debasing the value of the franc, and that has not been commented on).

So what are we arguing about? SDR's do exist. They are recognised by the capitalists states as a valid form of reserves alongside dollars, marks, etc, and they permit the issuance of money which buys use values. They are a sort of global deficit financing, but because of the still prevailing neo-liberalism, are treated with great caution.

Whatever figures Barkley produces on SDR's, what is so controversial about the idea that the IMF might be asked kindly to consider throwing a few billion into the Balkans. If the US can run a war its way without United Nations approval, what is to stop it leaning ever so nicely on the IMF?

The other objection was that there was no political or economic reason why it would be in the west's interests to arrange a Marshall Aid plan for the Balkans, because Communism has been defeated. Absolutely the reverse. Late capitalism requires large, stable supranational states with human rights for citizens regardless of race, colour or religion.

It is cheaper for western capitalism to set up Marshall Aid for the Balkans than to fight another war like that of Kosovo, in Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldava. These capitalists are of course not entirely stupid.

4) Those who dismissed my previous posts muddled up my prediction of a Marshall Aid plan for the Balkans with my advocacy of a Marshall Aid plan for Africa. The two are not the same. About Africa, it is an informed view in international financial circles that Africa is peripheral to the world economy that matters. Africa could fall off the map and the world would still keep turning.

That is exactly why the demand for a Marshall Aid programme for Africa is a progressive demand that challenges the capitalist domination of the world economy. We know technically that Marshall Aid is quite possible (unless informed economists think it their duty to dismiss it). It is a reform therefore that could be tried anywhere. Why is it not tried in Africa? For class and national reasons. That is why progressive people and economists should campaign for it.

Besides is it really so absurd as to be impossible to explain to certain capitalists or their servants? While the west has been pre-occupied with the horrors of Kosovo, Ethiopia and Somalia have been pounding each other back into the poverty from which they have only just been dragging themselves. In West Africa a vicious civil war is continuing in Sierra Leone, beyond the ability of military power of the regional peace making force. These disputes also need conciliation, and positive aims shared by the countries for their common economic prosperity.

Now the western arms merchants have no interest in Marshall Aid to Africa, but other capitalists could. Furthermore the working people of the west (or at least Europe) have shown repeated good will for other suffering human beings. A well presented plan backed by left economists willing to fight for reform of the international financial system would attract increasing political support.

There is a world to win.

A Marshall Aid plan for the Balkans will help. Lets also start a Marshall Aid plan for Africa.

And what would be wrong, Barkley, in view of the billions sucked out of Africa and transferred to the developed world each year, if issuance of SDR's was prioritised for African human and environmental protection and development? There is no theoretical or practical reason why it should not.

Chris Burford


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