Views from the third world. Earth.

The Debt Slavery Of A Nation

Sri Lanka’s 2022 protests failed and things have become even worse

Since Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt we have been colonized again. This time by the IMF, with policy run out of the American Embassy with Indians as enforcers. Same colonial shit, different capitalist day. This is marketed as ‘stabilization’ but it’s really just the rich standing on the backs of the poor and calling it a table. All that is happening is what happens to any poor family when the loan sharks bite. Productive assets are being sold off and the children are going hungry. They say this is for our future but what is a future without children? We are sacrificing a generation for the greed of few. What an abomination.

Thieves And Robbers

What we have in Sri Lanka is the people responsible for crashing the economy — indeed, those who profited from it — deciding how to ‘fix’ it. And they use inscrutable economic language to explain why policies the people hate must be imposed. As Leo Tolstoy said over a century ago:

It is admitted as an undoubted truth that if in society many thieves and robbers have sprung up who take from the labourers the fruits of their labour, this happens not because the thieves and robbers have acted badly, but because such are the inevitable economic laws, which can only be altered slowly by an evolutionary process indicated by science; and therefore, according to the guidance of science, people belonging to the class of robbers, thieves or receivers of stolen goods may quietly continue to utilize the things obtained by thefts and robbery.

Though the majority of people in our world do not know the details of these tranquilizing scientific explanations any more than they formerly knew the details of the theological explanations which justified their position, yet they all know that an explanation exists; that scientific men, wise men, have proved convincingly, and continue to prove, that the existing order of things is what it ought to be, and that, therefore, we may live quietly in this order of things without ourselves’ trying to alter it.

Only in this way can I explain the amazing blindness of good people in our society who sincerely desire the welfare of animals, but yet with quiet consciences devour the lives of their brother men.

Debt is precisely this sort of theft that economists launder into some inevitable law. But there’s nothing inevitable about paying debts. As we all know, sometimes you loan money and it doesn’t come back. Lenders take risk but in the international debt scenario we have a perverse scenario where they expect (and get) their pound of flesh from the poorest people on Earth. What the late David Graeber said was that:

Imagine there was some law that said they were guaranteed to get their money back no matter what happens, even if that meant, I don’t know, selling my daughter into slavery or harvesting my organs or something. Well, in that case, why not? Why bother waiting for someone to walk in who has a viable plan to set up a laundromat or some such? Basically, that’s the situation the IMF created on a global level — which is how you could have all those banks willing to fork over billions of dollars to a bunch of obvious crooks in the first place.

Graeber’s book is called ‘Debt’, and Tolstoy’s ‘The Slavery Of Our Times’. That is precisely where Sri Lanka finds itself today.

The same obviously crooks that foreign bondholders gave money to are in charge of fixing the problem that they caused. They have economists saying that this is simply the natural order of things and, indeed, economists like Indrajit Coomaraswamy saying, “Every single time there has been an election, Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic policies have become indisciplined. We’ve had 16 IMF programs before the current one. On many of them we did make progress in stabilization as we have done on this one. But as soon as an election approached, the progress that was made was reversed.”

Nowhere is the acknowledgment that maybe those 16 IMF programs are part of the problem. That maybe people know what they’re voting for at elections. What the former Central Bank Governor is peddling is the usual neoliberal pablum that economics should be completely out of democratic control. That, indeed, it should be out of local control. This is colonialism 2.0, a completely godless version.

The IMF are simply the enforcers for foreign capital and it’s an institution always headed by a European. That tells you all you need to know. These economists telling us why foreigners are better at running our country are just the new colonial administrators, whose faces were always brown. And the deeds they covered up were always the same. Looting the country while our own children’s future is stripped from them.

The Measurement Of Theft

Economists are fond of flying planes by instruments while everyone in back is passed out from lack of oxygen. ‘Look, inflation is down!’ they’ll say, while children's’ stomachs touch their backbones. The vital point that vulgar economists do not measure is that there is no future without children. Last October, the Health Ministry found that “42.9% of under-fives in Sri Lanka have some form of under-nutrition. A March 2023 report by the Medical Research Institute says that 19.8% of children between six and 59 months suffer from wasting.” (via). What does an inflation rate mean if we cannot keep food in our children’s stomachs?

The culprit for Sri Lanka’s economic crash is judged to be simply the same stuff neoliberals always complain about — state-owned enterprises and social programs. Add to that workers' hard-earned pension funds, now being looted under ‘domestic debt restructuring’. But they had nothing to do with it! Sri Lanka had a forex crisis, caused by general neocolonial relations and multinationals misinvoicing and not keeping money in the country. Also caused by a deep lack of industrialization and food and energy security. But does the IMF help fix any of those problems? Absolutely not, whatever the disease, they give the same medicine. More neoliberalism!

Every unique crisis is simply an opportunity for the same old looting. So the same government that got us into this mess— which is widely despised and has to keep suppressing local elections — is given the chance to make even more money on more corrupt deals. This time selling off profitable state-owned institutions, and pointedly not the ‘inefficient’ ones they complain about.

To understand state-owned enterprises, just substitute the world ‘democratically controlled enterprises’ and you’ll see why the rich hate them so much. The central tenet of neoliberalism is that the economy should not be under the people’s control. That countries should not be under their own control, and certainly not in the Global South. To the rich, democracy is just a circus for people to fight about race or sexuality, while all the bread goes to them. Even through this crisis, the people that should be paying are eating well. They are feasting while poor children starve.

As MP Harsha De Silva said,

There are two nations. One is doing well, spending money — go to any restaurant in Colombo and it’s full, lights are on, people are enjoying life — while the other nation is suffering like hell.

Just the other day the UNDP released a study on a massive sample of 25,000 households — which is as big as the sample of the Household Income and Expenditure Survey done once in three years — and found that 58% of people in this country are multidimensionally poor or vulnerable…

There are some districts like Puttalam, where 80% of people are basically poor and 58% of people across the country are multidimensionally vulnerable — which is a more diplomatic way of saying poor — in more than one aspect. That is really the second nation and the state of the nation must be looked at in that context.

Some people are enjoying ill-gotten wealth, including massive returns on bonds — people who bought International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) on inside deals, officials who were paid the full amount when they bought their bonds at 35 cents to the dollar. They comprise one set, while the other set is in poverty.

What we have in Sri Lanka is a case of foxes selling the henhouse, with fresh blood on their mouths. Our crooks are in cahoots with even bigger foreign crooks and we’re told this will be more ‘efficient’ and for our our good. All that is happening is simply a corrupt loan shark taking away the family cow. Nothing less, nothing more.

The fact is that — especially as the climate collapses— we will need more democratically run institutions, not less. Endless profit seeking produces endless waste heat and catastrophic outcomes for people and planet. It’s a planetary Ponzi scheme, and this generation is left holding the bag. What we need is climate communism because the market has so visibly run amok. But Sri Lanka is missing the boat on the changing future, and so we drown. Hell, we’re not even following sensible economic policies from the past, even from capitalist nations.

No country in the world has emerged from depression (or into ‘development’) by doing what Sri Lanka is doing now. The IMF has an almost 100% failure rate, not just in Sri Lanka. During American’s Great Depression they invested in thousands of state jobs and infrastructure projects. During their current problems, Bidenomics is also investing more in local manufacturing and state-driven investments in technology and infrastructure. What these ghouls recommend to the colonies, however, is the opposite. They sell lies or comprador economists repeat, because what the colonizer want — what they always wanted — is our cheap labor and natural resources for their own development. As Michael Jackson said, “all I’ve got to say is, they don’t really care about us.”

This Wonderful Blindness

The sad thing is that — after 16 iterations of modern colonialism and 400 years of the over form — many people in Sri Lanka (ie, my class) still believe in the ‘civilizing influence’. Even as western countries fall apart internally, we still think we should develop like them. Too many people from my class (and with my own name, Indrajit) talk about us needing ‘discipline’ from foreigners, while they take our children out back and cane the future out of them. Have we learned nothing? Tolstoy was talking about this form of modern slavery in 1900 and it’s still going on. As he said then:

This wonderful blindness which befalls people of our circle can only be explained by the fact that when people behave badly they always invent a philosophy of life which represents their bad actions to be not bad actions at all, but merely results of unalterable laws beyond their control. In former times such a view of life was found in the theory that an inscrutable and unalterable will of God existed which foreordained to some men a humble position and hard work and to others an exalted position and the enjoyment of the good things of life…

These explanations satisfied the rich and the poor (especially the rich) for a long time. But the day came when these explanations became unsatisfactory, especially to the poor, who began to understand their position. Then fresh explanations were needed. And just at the proper time they were produced. These new explanations came in the form of science: political economy, which declared that it had discovered the laws which regulate division of labour and of the distribution of the products of labour among men.

This is precisely where Sri Lanka finds itself. After centuries of colonialism, are we still believing that the latest iteration of White Empire is here to help us? Do we miss the war America is trying to start with China, couping or cajoling every neighboring country until they become aircraft carriers? Do we miss the entire atmosphere melts under the advice of all these economists, who don’t account for the hunger of children nor the anger of the climate gods at all? They simply come up with new ways why the rich should have more, the poor should have nothing, and other living creatures should simply die off.

This is the administration Sri Lanka finds itself under. Thieves and their petty priests, serving corrupt foreigners who don’t care for their own people, let alone us. And they say this is for our own good. It’s very bad. It’s pure evil. Sri Lanka is an entire country sold into debt slavery. We overthrew the government once but it just flipped over. It’s heads they win, tails we lose. We have no hope within this system. But sadly the people protesting for system change are too tired to make much noise now. But the anger is growing. I feel it in my bones.

Sri Lanka never really won our economic independence. We inherited an oligarchic parliamentary system from the British, assiduously killed off all the brave communists and rebels, and now we end up colonized again. We got the political independence to fight each other but never the economic independence to fight our real oppressors. And so we lose. The country is sold into debt slavery. A generation is deprived of food. And the elites that trashed the place called this stability. I pray to all the gods of this island, may their tables soon be overturned.