Klemens von Metternich, who lived through French Revolutions and Napoleonic Wars and was Foreign Minister of the Austrian Empire from 1809 to 1848, once opined: “When Paris sneezes, Europe catches cold.”
By early 2008, the BBC were utilising an “old economic saying” in their analysis of the prospects for the US and global economies – “When the US sneezes, the world catches a cold” – a saying which was pretty much spot on, and goes to show that the potential for adaptation of a juicy apophthegm is without frontiers almost as much as money and debt are in today’s global economy.
Every day, trillions of dollars flow through the stock markets trading in foreign exchange. China and Japan each hold over $1 trillion of the US national debt. The EU is the largest economy and the largest trading block in the world, its trade with the rest of the world worth $5 trillion per year. So it’s not just the respiratory health of the US we need to monitor. Europe nearly caught swine flu when the PIIGS’ economies hiccoughed, and remember the SE Asian financial crisis in 1997, which raised fears of a worldwide economic pneumonia?
China may not be about to call in its debts – it still needs the US to be a healthy economic market for its exports – but it may now be sickening for something. Its fevered growth has been fuelled by trillions of dollars of debt and government subsidies, and there’s a risk that what goes up may mean going down with a bug. We can only hope it triggers a mild case of ‘Sinositis’ at the worst, rather than a full-blown SARS epidemic.
Interconnection and interdependence are good. But I think it’s time to hold our collective heads over a bowl of steaming hot water, and take some deep breaths to clear our minds and come to our senses.
Another consequence of money without frontiers is of course tax avoidance. It doesn’t just affect the UK, although the actions of Google, Amazon, Starbucks and the like are nefarious enough.
In 2009, Christian Aid estimated that poor countries lose $160 billion each year to corporate tax dodging. Oxfam estimates another $156 billion of lost tax revenue from individuals, enough to provide a minimum income of £1.25 per day (compare that with the cost of a cup of Starbucks’ finest) and end extreme poverty at least twice over. This is why Oxfam and Christian Aid were two of the 208 member organisations of the IF Campaign, which helped make tax a key issue at the G8 summit in County Fermanagh in 2013.
Because actually money does have one big frontier: the rich act to protect their interests, and leave the poor without a bean. So if you have just woken up to smell the coffee, here’s an idea: take a look at the following organisations and campaigns, or hit your favoured search engine, and have a think about what you can do for tax justice and equality.