Talking with campaigners (2) : Pakistan

Second part of interview with John Nightingale, Chair of Jubilee Debt Campaign ( and my first in-person contributor to The Book of Debts at the library last week. 

John added $58bn – Pakistan’s current foreign debt burden – to The Book of Debts – and led up to this by talking about it generally:

J:  We have a meeting next week: Life and Debt in Pakistan.. Pakistan is a very poor place, it has got lots of debt that the government has run up over the years – and the rich countries have colluded in this, when Pakistan had all those floods they needed more money to rebuild things – the British gave very generously ha ha decided they would lend them some money -now if you’re going to rebuild things you’re not going to make any more money than you did before this shouldn’t be a matter of loans but of an outright gift! . So they do have a terrible burden which needs to be sorted out, but with it needs to be a better tax system because you have the situation there where many rich people and firms there are not paying the proper tax they should so something needs to be done about that.

And what we also need is a bit of reform so that we don’t get silly debts being built up in the future. Whether its Wonga or debts or the British Government sometimes underwrites at businesses do in other parts of the world, which is no bad thing but sometimes they do so with countries that are really doing quite bad things in terms of arms or dud contracts or things that are frankly corrupt. There needs to be a stop to that sort of thing.

And often this idea of a helping hand is sold in PR terms as a gift but in fact it’s a high cost debt, a commodity that they can’t really afford to pay for, in the form of a loan.

Have you read ‘The Shock Doctrine’  by  Naomi Klein?  – she proposes this has been a neo- liberal/capitalist plot to try and have economic and political power over the third world by giving them loans  / unhelpful development projects that get them into a state of dependency where they are naturally more malleable to what you want them to do..

A: What about Americas debt to China and the 16.7 debt ceiling, what if that gets called in there would be a tidal shift around that and we might find ourselves understanding what we have been doing for centuries, here in the west..

J:  Yes and it’s very interesting that people complain about China being very active and buying land in Africa etc. but its no better or worse than what European countries have been doing for a couple of hundred years so why are we complaining about them doing it…?

A : I was in China recently installing an artwork there and you sense the scales tipping the other way and now you see Osbourne signing deals etc. I’m interested to see how we deal with that because we are not equipped – historically, really – we are not used to that idea of chasing for business in the same, overt way are we?’

More on China later – I still have to write up my trip there, and some of the reflections  I have to make are relevant to this project so I will link in here once it’s published

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