But the economic prescription we are seeing for Greece is only the same as the IMF has been handing out to poor countries around the world for the last three decades with far worse consequences than those which the Greek people are likely to face. Rarely though does this register on the news front. Telling richer nations to cut their spending can cost people their jobs, see them suffer reduced services and perhaps have to pay higher taxes. Forcing poor nations to cut spending, kills. But that is what we as key players in the IMF have been doing for years. Paying back debts, even if run up by corrupt governments, is deemed more important than providing basic healthcare or education services to your poor.
The repeated failure of the IMF prescription to do any good for economies where it has been applied has in no way dimmed the enthusiasm with which it is recommended for every economy which gets into trouble. It learnt the old Thatcherite slogan “there is no alternative” at the start of the 80’s and it has stuck to it ever since.
Important though this is, it isn’t the real point I want to make. Because there was another story this week which was largely passed over by the media, yet its significance makes the crisis in Greece seem even less important than does the economic effect of cuts in poor nations. At a conference on the state of the world’s oceans which brought together experts in many different aspects of the field there were a series of shocking conclusions drawn, including that:
- The magnitude of our impact on the oceans is greater than previously realised
- There is a high risk of a marine extinction phase unprecedented in human history and
- Ecosystem collapse is occurring which damages or eliminates the ability of ecosystems to support human beings
Perhaps the underlying issue here is that the environment represents a threat to the economic status quo. As the oceans report makes clear, we and our economic development are the problem. Climate change, pollution, over-fishing, resource extraction, habitat destruction and alien species introduction are the major problems identified and all are bound closely into our economic system. Tackling these would require a wholescale change in our relationship with the natural world. One which it isn’t in the short term interests of any business or government to promote because of the inevitable economic implications.
So here is the root problem. For too many years our world view has been dominated by economics and the belief that everything is subservient to its demands. The environment has been considered very much a secondary issue, nice to look after so long as the economy is going well. We have to turn our thinking on its head and realise that we must focus on preserving our environment and then run our economies as best we can in that context. That way we might have a future worth looking forward to. If we continue to put the needs of the economy at the top of our priorities then we may have no longer term future at all. Governments don't care; business doesn't care, do you?