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Howard’s End: The IMF, World Bank and Dick Smith

The IMF and World Bank are due to meet in Prague this week and will likely claim they are now the "best friends of the poor," while Aussie multimillionaire, Dick Smith, claims globalisation has gone wrong and that multinationals are now so huge they are bigger than government's. John Howard writes.

The World Bank, through one of its vice-presidents Mats Karlsson, is claiming that it is lending developing countries more money for health, education and poverty reduction than ever before.

While that's true, it still insists that countries put debt repayments ahead of public spending. And it still hasn't explained why it is making dollar loans for schools when nearly all their costs are incurred in local currencies.

Like myself, British Guardian newspaper columnist, George Monbiot, who agrees the World Bank and IMF should be shut down, does not see sense in that policy unless, of course, local provision of goods and services will be replaced by foreign contractors, or if children are to be given imported computers before they can even read or write.

George says, " First they break your legs and then they offer you a pedicure."

For me, the New Zealand supported World Bank/IMF lending system so favours large multinational companies, particularly the US, that it would not be unreasonable to describe it as corrupt.

For instance, when both organisations were established Britain was told that unless it supported the US proposals it wouldn't get its war loans.

Those adopted US proposals ensure that the debtor nations fall into debt and that creditors could then exercise greater economic and political power over them - it's called follow the money.

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Meanwhile, speaking from his Sydney home last week about the Melbourne globalisation protests, electronics multimillionaire Dick Smith said, " I have sympathy for the protesters in Melbourne. I have no sympathy for the violence but every Australian is concerned with what they are talking about."

"Globalisation has gone wrong, as it has no rules. Multinationals are almost above the law. They are so huge they are bigger than governments," he said.

"If we are not careful, capitalism will self-destruct. We will destroy it as they companies have no conscience and do not really compete," he said.

"They are so big they can't go broke, so they simply acquire everything," Mr Smith said.

Had he been asked to address the APEC forum, for example, he would have urged delegates to listen to the anger. In speaking about Australia he could just as easily have been speaking about New Zealand.

He said, "People are worried, they want Australia to stickup for itself and keep Australian-owned companies for Australia."

"People fear we have lost control of our destiny as foreign firms buy up Australian companies. Politicians had better start listening." he said.

"Democratically governed countries are losing control of their destiny. But the sentiment to hold on to vital industries like food is worldwide," Mr Smith said.

"Free trade is a must to allow lesser developed countries to build up, but that does not mean you sell off your companies. That is not free trade."

"We should have legislation barring foreign companies from buying up all our food companies and other essential industries."

Then he uttered the ultimate heresy which would shock every aspiring capitalist.

"Marx was right when he said capitalism would destroy itself as capitalist would eat capitalist until they became so big they could not compete," he said.

"We willl have to get world laws which break them up. It will be difficult, but you are already getting groundswells of opinion."

Mr Smith has entered the food producing market and guarantees that his brand of food is as much as possible made in Australia and Australian-owned. Within six months of launching his Dick Smith peanut butter it has captured 20% of the domestic market.

He is about to launch Ozmite to take on Aussie icon Vegemite, which is owned by the American Kraft, which, Mr Smith delights in reminding anybody who will listen, is owned by the tobacco giant Philip Morris.

"There is a groundswell of opinion to support the home team." Mr Smith said.

He argues that if just $50 a week in the family shopping basket was redirected from foreign goods it would keep $billions a year from leaving his country and create hundreds of thousands of additional jobs.

He cites IXL which used to be an Australian jam manufacturer but was bought out by the US firm Smuckers, who closed the jam making plant in Victoria and imported cheaper stawberries from Mexico to make the jam.

"The farmers got together and started making their own jam but they couldn't sell it. They came to me, the jam was better than the foreign stuff and we put the Dick Smith name on it and now it's racing off the shelves."

"There has been 160 people put back in work and they now operate two shifts a day and we are thinking of buying another cannery," Mr Smith said.

Those farmers had a real problem because "the big companies pay to have the best positions on the supermarket shelves and they couldn't get a look in."

The jam making has worked so well that he is also involved in a proposed asparagus canning operation in NSW where the Edgell plant was closed after being bought out by an overseas company.

Mr Smith believes that politicians are missing the backlash from ordinary angry people. "They had better start listening or they will be left behind," Mr Smith concluded.

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