Uh Oh, Nativism is not Only Offensive

Plenty of smart people in Washington, none more so than International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and her friend Nancy Birdsall, who created the Center for Global Development fifteen years ago.

CGD is one of the few think tanks in Washington that believes in something (“Development is possible.”) Others will tell you what cannot be done.

These two thinkers met July 14 at CGD a couple of hours before the attacks in Nice. As many times before, they showed that brains will help if we are to resolve the inequities that frustrate both us and the crazies. Shedding brains for ego, rhetoric, impulse, appetite, fly catching, tribalism will likely not. We are in real trouble here. This common perception may unite us at some point.

Challenges, Lagarde said, are low growth, rising inequality, and falling numbers of jobs. Resolve these three stumbling blocks and we may get the world to work better. The IMF alone cannot do it, nor even the IMF, World Bank, U.S. Government, OECD, European Union, United Nations together. We can’t channel the human mind to a higher level anytime soon, but we’d better tackle those three bugbears or we’re all sunk. The wealthy with the others.

Lagarde reminded us that the sixty low income countries make up one-fifth of the world’s population. You don’t have to like them if you don’t care to. These are the ones who will vote with their feet and land on our doorsteps. Interdiction cannot prevent them when they lack options to stay at home. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established in 2015 are well and good, but only if implemented.

The good news, she said, is that 1.4 billion people rose out of “abject” poverty from 2000 to 2015, child mortality fell, and there was progress in eradication of malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The least developed countries advanced by 6% in growth. Nice. “I was prepared to wear my happy-face,” Lagarde said, before getting to the bad news.

Fragile states grew only at 2-3%, and of the 60 least developed countries, only sixteen met their targets of poverty reduction. Demographic increases, climate change, and violent conflict (civil war and terrorism) stand in the way – not surprisingly, and evidence increases that humans have taken what the Enlightenment called “happiness” and managed to throw it to the dogs.

Something called “sound macroeconomic management” aims for low inflation, low debt, fiscal probity, competitive exchange rates, and reduction of public debt. Fair enough. Official development assistance (ODA) must rise from the 0.3% it is now, to 0.7%. This is not altruism, but the sort of planning that can address desperate migration, pandemics, public coffers disappearing into offshore accounts and tax evasion, leaving the rest of us to our potholes, rising crime rates, kidnappings which will only increase and spoil our European vacations. And yes, terrorism. This is caca we do not need or want, and it is getting ever closer to our protected enclosures. No one escapes. We needn’t be generous souls to see that our fouled nest should be at least deodorized.

Since 1996 the IMF has provided $76 billion in debt relief to Heavily Indebted, Poor Countries (HIPC), but this is a water spider on the surface of a pond of algae scum.

Most poignantly, nativism will not take anyone forward, not even the nativists. “Do not revert within borders,” Lagarde said July 14, choosing her words carefully and avoiding political gaffes like the recent one of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Christine Lagarde never commits gaffes. Listen to her and heed her, or else.

Otherwise, prepare to raise the ramparts and spike the multitudes with baseball bats and fly-swatters. They, too, can get nasty. We see how adept they are at learning to do so. We are nowhere much in solving or even addressing the challenges we face. Urgency and prudence. Demagogues can be ignored or countered, but distractions from the closing circle of deadlines for getting it right will not wait while we peruse, vent, and get angry at certain despicable individuals seeking to lead us.

Dan Whitman teaches Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

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