As the leaders of the industrialized world converge on Pittsburgh later this week to "commit to a framework for sustainable and balanced growth" (as President Obama has put it), perhaps a nail in that frame could be the forgiveness of the debt burden saddling many of the world's poorest countries.
In an op-ed in Sunday's Post-Gazette by Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service (my employer) and Rev. John Welch, president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and dean of students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary write:
"The global financial crisis, which has devastated families in Western Pennsylvania and nationwide, is having an even more dire impact in the developing world. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the global South, children who should be in school are instead hospitalized with diseases that could have been prevented with simple vaccinations. But the money many of these countries should be spending on basic education and health care is instead being funneled to multilateral banks in the form of steep debt payments.
"The affected countries didn't land in this predicament just by their own irresponsibility. If anything, they are paying the price for recklessness on Wall Street. They have often been victimized by bankers who aggressively made loans to brutal and corrupt governments, knowing full well that those loans would not benefit the people. In many cases, soaring interest rates and compound interest make it impossible for these countries to eradicate debt even after scrupulously making their payments time and again."
Messinger and Welch argue:
"In today's interconnected world, we cannot wash our hands of global poverty and unjust debt, setting it aside as 'their problem,' which doesn't affect our prosperity or stability. You reap what you sow, the Bible tells us. And under the existing debt regime, the consequences ricochet back to the developed world in the form of expensive bank bailouts, a degraded environment, increased drug trafficking and military conflict."