Despite how a state’s population comes under the coercive control of a political/military group, if that group has the power over natural resources, territory, and means of production, and receives international recognition, then that group receives certain privileges. The international community allows the group to borrow in the country’s name and to freely dispose of its natural resources. This, Thomas Pogge states in his book, World Poverty and Human Rights, provides incentive for military coups and civil wars. (119). In other words, the current structure of international legal institutions reproduces the cycle of poverty, human rights violations, and unsustainable natural resource extraction. Of particular significance in the current political climate, is how a country, newly freed from a totalitarian (or take your pick) regime, deals with the debt the previous group incurred in the name of its citizens.
Despite how the group holding governmental power in national territory came to dominance, the borrowed monies created valid legal obligations upon the whole country. In post revolutionary societies where the leader has been overthrown, how can a society move beyond the financial chains the previous leader bargained for? As Pogge eloquently states, “[a]ny successor government that refuses to honor debts incurred by an ever so corrupt, brutal, undemocratic, unconstitutional, repressive, unpopular predecessor will be severely punished by the banks governments of other countries; at a minimum it will lose its own borrowing privilege by being excluded from the international financial markets.” (120). Despite what could be the beginning of a democratic state (that the U.S. rhetoric champions internationally), the state would either have to pay back the loans or be marginalized by the international financial community. Currently, Zimbabwe’s debt is 103% of its GDP. At what point does this debt become odious? How does the international community forgive these debts? What are the criteria? Must the debts be linked to military purchases used against its own citizens? Must the funds be connected to the citizens’ oppression? These questions will be explored in a later paper, but they question significant barriers and processes through which a state can move beyond dictatorships, debt, and the cycle of underdevelopment. Thomas Pogge states, “the citizens and governments of the wealthy societies, by imposing the present global economic order, significantly contribute to the persistence of severe poverty and thus share institutional moral responsibility for it.” (121).
Malcolm X stated in 1964 that we are “living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme
methods…” How do we, as lawyers, educators, and academics, change the global economic
order? Evidence keeps amassing concerning the growing inequality gap both nationally and internationally, but how do we as a people change these economic orders? Can we pass legislation that will shift how wealth is distributed? We’ve tried that and it never ends up working. Do we win landmark court cases in front of the Supreme Court? That’s been tried and they are either not followed, later overruled, legislators remove jurisdiction, or just sit there in the legal reporter collecting dust. Must we take extreme methods? Can a revolution of the global economic order occur non-violently? Will post-revolutionary states such as Egypt and Tunisia be stuck with debt that sap the capacity of their fledgling democracies to make the social and financial reforms needed to create a lasting democracy? Probably not. Those in power have misused it. Forgiving debt is akin to giving money away. Money and self-interest power and empower the world powers, and democracy or a just social order just gets in the way.
Jason D. MacLeod
Pogge, T. W. M. (2008). World poverty and human rights. Cambridge: Polity.