8 June 2003

Downsizing in disguise
The streets of Baghdad are a swamp of crime and uncollected garbage. Battered local businesses are going bankrupt, unable to compete with cheap imports. Unemployment is soaring and thousands of laid-off state workers are protesting in the streets.

In other words, Iraq looks like every other country that has undergone rapid-fire "structural adjustments" prescribed by Washington, from Russia's infamous "shock therapy" in the early 1990s to Argentina's disastrous "surgery without anesthetic." Except that Iraq's "reconstruction" makes those wrenching reforms look like spa treatments.

Paul Bremer, the US-appointed governor of Iraq, has already proved something of a flop in the democracy department in his few weeks there, nixing plans for Iraqis to select their own interim government in favor of his own handpicked team of advisers. But Bremer has proved to have something of a gift when it comes to rolling out the red carpet for US multinationals.

This is really not surprising. The Argentines have done almost everything demanded of them under the Washington consensus and their economy is a shambles. The Iraqis, of course, have no choice about accepting the Washington consensus. It's ironic that the Bush administration are happily telling the world that big-F freedom now prevails in Iraq and then wondering why so much of the world regards American-style freedom as a dubious proposition.

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