Quantitative monkey business

It’s been a good year for development economists.

I don’t mean that the holy grail of an economic model to narrow the global divide has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

But our bumbling endeavours appear gilded with wisdom compared with those of our peers engaged in advising and managing the world’s mature economies. In Europe especially it’s been an animal-house out there, the monkeys armed with calculators rather than Shakespearean typewriters.

Yesterday, random keystrokes on the Bank of England’s calculator displayed Ω75 billion. Terrified by the Greek symbolism, the Governor decided to print new £££ totalling that number, a process labelled as quantitative easing.

This has been the other secret pleasure for the development pundit, observing curious parallels between the writhing western financial markets and the well-trodden misery of African economies.

At a naughty pinch we can invoke the spectre of Robert Mugabe as a trailblazer of quantitative easing. More convincingly, the emergence of Greece as an untrustworthy borrower has already inspired veterans of 1990s debt relief campaigns to rehearse the old refrain – “cancel the debt!” plus, sotto voce, “stuff the German banks!”

Then today I noticed that the BBC’s report on the Bank of England move had attracted no fewer than 1,075 comments. Fortunately, the BBC’s rating system elevates those responses with most public sympathy.

Sure enough, the top two comments ticked some familiar boxes. “Split (the £75 billion) per head of population,” demanded loubylou73, echoing the new consensus on direct cash transfers as the most effective method of poverty reduction in the global south. Here’s the second comment by jacquian:  “Just give the money to the people to spend. £75 billion divided between us and we will spend our way out of the crisis.” Does that wording ring a bell?

Prepare for the best-seller lists of Christmas economics books to feature a revival of a development title from 2010:

“Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South” by Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos and David Hulme.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK