WE permit a contagion far more malignant than coronavirus to menace the world’s health. All it requires to thrive are darkness, silence and indifference. It’s a sickness that makes Covid-19 look like hay fever. You’re tempted to call it merely capitalism but it actually constricts the free market more than Marxism by advancing towards two pre-ordained outcomes: the permanent triumph of greed and the defeat of kindness. It is a world without mercy.

We know it by its consequences; only rarely is it dragged into the light. One such occasion occurred in the High Court in London in 2017 when a ‘vulture fund’ attempted to feed on the stricken economy of one of the world’s poorest nations. According to the charity, African Vision of Hope, around three-quarters of the Zambian population lives on less than $1 a day; 40% don’t have access to clean drinking water, almost 90% of rural women cannot read. More than 14% have HIV.

Vulture funds feed on the deeply discounted debt of economically distressed nations with the sole intention of recovering it at its original value by using legal hit squads. They can afford to wait years for judgment and almost always win. Their average rate of recovery can be up to 20 times their initial outlay and will include all arrears and penalties. They refuse to participate in any programmes of debt restructure that might diminish the value of their "investments". Their activities are entirely legal and above board.

In 2017 a High Court judge ruled that Zambia should pay a fund, based in the British Virgin Islands, $15m for a $4m debt owed by the country. The fund had originally sought $42m. The judge was obviously a leftie reprobate.

Decades previously, in South Africa the apartheid regime bequeathed to the new government crippling debts accumulated by years of irresponsible lending by the World Bank and the IMF. Much of this was used to fund the military, the main instrument of state oppression and the synthetic fuel industry which was vital in mitigating oil sanctions. In 1983, and only after pressure applied by the anti-apartheid movement, the lending stopped. But efforts by the new government to have these debts forgiven found little sympathy within the global finance system.

Africa possesses all that’s required to build a booming economy: people; vast mineral resources and a boundless entrepreneurial spirit, but the West and the global financial elite that it harbours have been picking this continent clean for centuries. The last thing they want is another competing economy.

For years, we have been fobbed off by a pernicious narrative that feeds the racist notion of African indolence and corruption being the main authors of the continent’s broken economies. Thus, we accept the fiction that Britain along with the world’s other most developed economies pour billions through their favoured aid partners into Africa.

However, in 2017, Global Financial Integrity, based in the US and the Centre for Applied Research at the Norwegian School of Economics offered a different story. By taking into account a suite of stealthy financial and trade practices the researchers concluded that for every dollar Africa receives in aid it provides the Western political and financial elites with around three dollars.

Much of this, of course, consisted of billions in debt repayments, the West’s preferred instrument of castrating Africa. At a lower level is a kind of vampirism by which foreign corporations and investors hoover up contracts and send the profits back home. Africa’s oil-fields have been Klondykes for Western petroleum companies. The falsification by some of corporate invoices – on the grand scale – adds further scope for their predations.

In India, land of sorrow and enchantment, the wicked excesses of the caste system and a ruinous war with Pakistan which followed the UK’s sudden chaotic departure have always stalked government attempts to address inequality. A difficult task was made almost impossible by the famine between 1876 and 1878. This resulted in five million deaths as Britain ransacked the country and carried off its wheat.

Last week, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN urged the expansion of post-coronavirus debt relief programmes to help the world’s poorest countries. According to UN official figures African nations are having to service a $44Bn debt bill for 2020 alone. It’s estimated that around 60 million people living in the world’s poorest countries now face a future disfigured by grinding and persistent poverty.

We are quick to evade any responsibility for instability in the world’s powder-keg regions. Instead, we cite the genocidal actions of psychopathic dictators and war-lords. In many cases though, the West’s fingerprints can be found at the scenes of the crime. Western greed has created the perfect conditions for hundreds of political gangsters.

The 1918 Treaty of Versailles which followed World War One imprisoned the German people in a poor-house for two decades by hitting them with a debt repayment of $442Bn in today’s money. This led to hyperinflation which rendered the deutschmark worthless and created the conditions for a genocidal psychopath to make his entrance.

In those places where lethal instability is followed by the forced displacement of people, greed and feral capitalism can be spotted nearby, loitering with intent. As coronavirus passes and we assess the damage we can be sure of this: it will be as nothing compared with what awaits those countries the Western banking system has already bled dry.

For them coronavirus is an opportunity to cover their tracks. They are aided by stooges (and we know who they are) who think that having pleasant conversations in middle class homes and being polite on Twitter is the answer. They know that good people are too busy balancing the daily duties of citizenship and family to inspect the small-print of these insidious transactions carried out in their name.

For millions of our brothers and sisters coronavirus is just one more pathogen in a life menaced by many others: debt; famine; war, pestilence. Unlike coronavirus these are all man-made and we all conspire in them with our silence and indolence. The pandemic of global capitalism is the greatest sickness in the world right now. For its most defenceless victims coronavirus is a walk in the park.

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