Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Caution: NGOs are bad for your country's health

Libertarians take so much crap for opposing large-scale, intrusive government on the national scale that we rarely even get around to the same argument with respect to the UN and the whole host of related NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) spawned by, or associated with that august body.

So it is only a time-out here to make note that New Scientist reports on a study which finds that the International Monetary Fund is hazardous to the health of the countries to whom it lends money.

I am quoting liberally from the dead-tree edition, as the current issue is gated:

Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists for the negative impact of IMF loans. A decade ago, frustrated African doctors were calling it the Infantry Mortality FUnd because of what happened to child survival rates when it started guiding government spending.

This week comes news that tuberculosis deaths, a sensitive indicator of the quality of public health services, climbed in 21 countries during IMF programmes... In addition, deaths correlate with the length of IMF involvement and the amount loaned. The effect did not appear to be a statistical anomaly, nor the result of other factors affecting TB: the IMF is clearly in the frame.

OK, so how could the IMF be causing increased TB deaths by loaning money to developing nations?

The International Monetary Fund lends money to countries with financial problems and in return requires them to cut spending to control inflation. Others have long charged that this in fact reduces spending on healthcare and so promotes the spread of disease...

The team also found that for each year of a country's involvement with the IMF, the TB death rare increased by 4 per cent, on average.

Of course, IMF doesn't believe this:

William Murray, a spokesman for the IMF, says that the organization advises countries to spend on healthcare, and that the increases in TB and mortality are due to something else.

That's a highly technical term: something else.

Before anyone feels empowered to launch into a neo-colonialist diatribe about corrupt government and poor infrastructure in African nations, I should point out that the study focused on IMF-funded countries in central and eastern Europe.

IMF has always been a contradiction in terms: an organization that so fervently believes in free-market capitalism that it imposes a particular form of freedom of choice from the same cookie-cutter on all countries and cultures regardless of their level of infrastructure, industrialization, or social set-up.

See? When you get intrusive nanny-state government coming in with sweeping powers, it doesn't even matter if it's your government.

It could just as easily be an NGO like the IMF.

If you have a New Scientist subscription, then go here to read the whole article. Otherwise you can wait about two weeks and read it for free.


Brian said...

You've got your lingo wrong. The organizations you are talking about are IGOs or inter-governmental organizations. NGOs like community associations, think tanks, churches, hospitals, et cetera are an essential element of world society. Please correct your article.

Brian said...

In fact, the Libertarian Party is an NGO.

Steve Newton said...

Sorry to disagree, Brian, but the standard descriptor in academics and particularly the social sciences for organizations like IMF is NGO.