Saturday, May 22, 2010

What happens after debt cancellation?

"Why should the devil have all the best tunes?"
--William Booth
The campaign for the complete cancellation of the sovereign debts of the poorest countries in the world has been one of the great global issues of the last two decades. Bono and Kenneth Kaunda, the former President of Zambia, have been among its most famous and active supporters. And it has been largely successful--the sovereign debts of many countries, including Zambia, have been cancelled as a direct result of this campaign. The cancellation of these debts, the campaigners said, would give heavily indebted poor countries the chance to start afresh and, in effect, "move forward into [the] broad, sunlit uplands" of Churchillian rhetoric.

At least that's how the story and the song went.

How have things actually panned out? Take the case of Kaunda's own Zambia. Ng’andu Magande, Zambia's finance minister from 2003 to 2008 and a highly respected economist in his own right, gave his assessment of Zambia's current debt situation earlier this week. It was not pretty.

The lesson for those on the right side of any public policy issue, be it "climate change", or "financial reform", or what have you, is this: It is not enough to be right; you have to be effective. And to be effective, you have to be able to match your opponents: idea for idea, story for story, tune for tune.

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