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The politics of economic self-destruction
Sorry for the hiatus. Partly I've been busy with work and life and been unable to spend as much time doing articles. Partly I am trying to train myself to not relate to the world through 2000 word articles but to have a little more variety, including longer things (ie., books), one of which I am actually going to publish after having it sit on my hard disk for a few years. Related, I have been trying to stop and think, to be less in a reactive mode, which is what the twitter and blogging and surfing seem to encourage me to do.
Having said all that, I came back a few weeks ago from Bukavu in the DRC, a place where the government has no capacity to collect taxes, provide services, take care of or protect people. The consequences of that are hunger, misery, and violence. The collapse of the state and its economic functions is the best explanation for what makes the Democratic Republic of Congo such a hard place for its people. I was working there, teaching, and people are trying to get on, to see what they can get working in spite of all the dysfunctionality - caused in part by an ongoing plunder by neighbours and multinationals, in part by a previous plunder by a dictator (Mobutu), and before that by colonial plunder. The Congo hasn't had a break, and most of its travails have been brought upon it from without.
I came back to my city, Toronto, where an elected mayor and a few of his councillors, including someone named Giorgio Mammoliti who we'll return to, who is working to get Toronto one step closer to Bukavu. Arriving with a $335 million surplus, he managed in a few months to contrive a "crisis" by which the city can be plundered, presumably by his friends from the private sector - including those who made the suggestions in a $3 million report. Meanwhile in the United States, what seems to me to be an accounting contrivance - the debt ceiling - is being used by the Tea Party Republicans and at the national level, with Obama's ever-conciliatory help, to get the US one step closer to the DRC.
The other day in Toronto 200 people gave 3-minute deputations to the mayor at a 24 hour meeting at city hall. 197 of them were opposed to the destruction of their city. 3 of them were for it. Mammoliti then invoked the "silent majority" to suggest explain he would ignore the deputations. Had 197-3 spoken for the cuts instead of against them, would Mammoliti have invoked that "silent majority"? Probably not. Probably, he would say that the people had spoken.
One thing that struck me in the DRC was how reluctant my Congolese students were to blame any external forces or factors for the Congo's predicament. They were much more inclined to blame local leaders, politics, and culture, and I tried to convince them of the importance of structural considerations, using work like Ha-Joon Chang's. The DRC's been through about 131 years of pretty much continuous plunder, after all, and they can say so, even if they don't. What will we be able to say in Toronto? What will Americans be able to say? Our civilization may have crumbled, but we sure did have low taxes?