FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Scourge of the IMF

by ROBERT WEISSMAN

Tuberculosis, a treatable disease, kills 1.7 million people a year worldwide.

TB incidence, according to the World Health Organization seems to be correlated to broad social factors, like access to clean water and sanitation, HIV incidence and national health expenditures.

A just published study in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine investigates the role of different possible explanatory factor: the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The researchers’ study focuses on the period 1991 to 2003 for the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a region for which there is robust data.

The results: The researchers concluded “that IMF economic reform programs are strongly associated with rises in tuberculosis mortality rates in post-communist Eastern European and FSU [former Soviet Union] countries, even after correcting for potential selection bias, tuberculosis surveillance infrastructure, levels of economic development, urbanization, and HIV/AIDS.”

“We estimated an increase in tuberculosis mortality rates when countries participate in an IMF program, which was much greater than the reduction that would have been expected had the countries not participated in an IMF program. On the other hand, we estimated a decrease in tuberculosis mortality rates associated with exiting an IMF program.”

In other words: When countries entered IMF programs, TB rates went up. When the programs ended and countries escaped from IMF influence, TB rates went down.

OK, but the region was in chaos after the fall of the Soviet Union. Economies crashed and per capita income plummeted. Crime rose, incarceration rates jumped, HIV spread. Aren’t these the real factors behind rising TB rates?

Explains Sanjay Basu of Yale University, one of the study authors: “First of all, not all of these countries in this region were dependent on the former Soviet Union. Many of them actually had an increase in GDP after the fall of the former Soviet Union. Several were not part of the trading bloc. And in some of the key countries where TB rates rose, we actually saw an increase in economic growth. So economic downturns could not explain, as the WHO itself has stated, the trends of tuberculosis in that regions. Something else was going on.”

“The reason we use such heavy statistics is precisely to factor in these other issues — incarceration, HIV, changes to the economy, changes to the healthcare infrastructure. We found a statistically independent effect of the IMF. That’s not to say that the IMF was the only cause of TB in this region. The economy, incarceration, HIV — these are all very important, but those factors could not fully explain TB in the region.”

The PLoS study found that participating in an IMF program correlated with increases in tuberculosis incidence of 13.9 percent and an increase in TB mortality rates of 16.6 percent. Basu says that, if the study results are valid, they suggest “we would have averted tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of new cases” if countries in the region had never entered IMF programs.

The theory of the study authors is that IMF programs drive down healthcare spending, and this reduced investment in healthcare explains the rise in TB incidence and death. Basu emphasizes, correctly, that the issue is not so much the IMF directing countries to spend less on health. Rather, it imposes a set of policy constraints — including overall limits on government spending, and needlessly low inflation targets — that inevitably result in countries spending less on health.

There are always variations between regions, but there is nothing about the PLoS researchers’ story that suggests things are any different in Africa, the region where the IMF now exerts the most influence.

Not surprisingly, the IMF has rejected the PLoS findings. “Severe methodological shortcomings limit the scope of these results and prevent any causal interpretation,” asserts an IMF response that is much more subdued than comments from spokespeople. “The fundamental problem is that this study does not take properly into account that countries implement IMF-supported reforms in times of economic distress.”

Says the IMF response: “The authors do not take into account that the economic and social instability following the collapse of Soviet Union may have had a direct impact on TB incidence in the 21 transition economies considered in the study.”

The problem with this line of argument is that it is not true. The authors did take the economic and social instability into account.

Can anything be done about IMF policies with such harmful impacts?

Yes. The IMF is a human creation, not a force of nature.

The United States Congress will next year have a unique opportunity to influence IMF policy. The IMF needs approval from the Congress to go ahead with plans to sell some of the gold it controls. This gold would be used to fund the IMF’s administrative costs — a new income stream the IMF desperately needs. Interest payments from middle-income countries previously paid for administrative costs, but these countries have paid back their loans in order to escape from IMF influence.

As the U.S. Congress looks to approve gold sales to finance the IMF, it must insist that the IMF first end the mandates that effectively restrict countries’ health spending, and force borrowing countries to implement a discredited market fundamentalist policy agenda.

ROBERT WEISSMAN is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action.

 

 

 

 

 

ROBERT WEISSMAN is president of Public Citizen.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail