War Criminals (Economics Division): The Dirty Twenty

Identifying any kind of war criminal is tricky. It is common to latch on to the hit men, or the ones issuing the immediate orders, while ignoring the planners and decision-makers, the funders, and those providing intellectual and moral support. And of course war criminals (military division [MD]) are always found only on the losing side, when frequently there are outstanding candidates among the winners. Identifying war criminals is hard to do without an arbitrariness that renders the whole effort dubious.


As for economics-based criminality, the very idea is anathema to the western establishment, because it points up an area in which its principals are vulnerable. Just as the West (and especially the United States) fought against incorporating economic (and social) rights as fundamental rights in post World War II formulations of the International Declaration of Human Rights, so today it avoids the phrase "class war" as well as the possibility of criminality associated with economic policy and private economic actions. The western establishment devotedly supports capitalism, which means "economic freedom," which means the freedom to starve as well as accumulate wealth.


It also means the right of establishment politicians to carry out economic policies that immiserate and kill large numbers of people, and the right of the corporate elite to fire, exploit, and otherwise mistreat employees within the (flexible) limits of the law. These rights are fundamental to the system, and spokespersons for contemporary capitalism view any immiseration produced by its normal operations as inescapable facts of nature, like cosmic rays. As we are in a New World Order of resurgent corporate power, more aggressive class warfare, an ongoing global redistribution of income upward, return to "Dickensian" work conditions, and environmental devastation, the notion of economic criminality is especially dangerous. Immiseration must be normalized, and it is the function of the intellectuals at the Cato, American Enterprise, Manhattan and other institutes, and economists at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, to extend the intellectual and moral boundaries of potential immiseration.


The press has the responsibility of keeping such uncomfortable notions as economics-based criminality out of sight. Each year Oxfam puts out powerful documents on global poverty and the devastating effects of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies on the world’s non-elite billions (a superb illustration is its 1995 The Oxfam Poverty Report), but these are never reviewed or even reported in the New York Times. Similar suppression or marginalization is applied to the publications and conferences of Food First, the Development Group for Alternative Policies, the Global Exchange, PROBE International, and other dissident groups, and to campaigns like last year’s "Fifty Years Are Enough" (celebrating the 50th anniversary of the World Bank).


The media also treat in a very low key the massive looting by western clients like Mobutu, Suharto and the Salinas boys and their allies, the union busting operations of Caterpillar, and the damage inflicted on the underlying populations by neoliberalization in countries like Mexico and Chile. I have always thought it enlightening that the great thief, Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was treated very gently by the U.S. media until 1986, when he became so weak internally that he could no longer serve U.S. interests and was written off by U.S. policy-makers, at which point his looting suddenly became newsworthy!


In addressing economic criminality we run into some of the same kinds of problems that establishment analysts encounter in identifying military war crimes. Who is "responsible" in a complex system of division of labor? Do we look behind the middle and top managers to the large shareholders and bankers who may call the shots? Do we stop with the political leaders who make and execute laws or do we reach back to the election funders, advisers, planners and intellectuals urging on the criminal projects? Pinning the label of criminality on individuals ignores the systemic element in such crimes–the fact that they are not only the result of how the system works, but that large numbers share responsibility. It is true that some can be identified with special discretionary powers and exceptional involvement in war and economic war crimes, but we still face difficult problems. Information on criminal economic behavior, which extends over the entire globe, is limited and the actual locus of economic and political decisions if often difficult to establish. In short, our selection is going to have a strong element of arbitrariness.


Why bother then? As noted earlier, one reason is to highlight the arbitrariness of the establishment’s confinement of war crimes to those that fit its biases and to focus on the immorality and viciousness of important forms of criminal economic activity. A second is to name names, and to call the scoundrels in question by their deserved name of war criminal–economics division. They are all quite respectable folk, much honored. A man like Michel Camdessus, a prime war criminal-ED who heads the International Monetary Fund, considers himself a "socialist" and do-gooder.


Economic crimes deserving attention fall into two categories: first, are those that harm large numbers by enforcing an economic policy that serves the global elite, as with Camdessus’ "structural adjustment" programs for poor countries. A second form of crime is large scale theft, as in the case of Mobutu, the Western imposed looter in Zaire, and Suharto in Indonesia. The robbers also help immiserate, but they do it not so much through policy actions as by directly reducing the GDP available to the populace by their own robbery and that carried out by foreign businesses who have made entry payoffs. A number of war criminals-ED are also war criminals- MD. Mobutu and Suharto, in addition to looting, have also participated in large scale repression and murder.




The Dirty Twenty


I am going to break my list of war criminals-ED into four categories: Government Leaders, Middle Managers, Businessmen, and Economists-Intellectuals-Advisers. I will include only criminals currently active, so that Margaret Thatcher, Carlos Salinas, Ronald Reagan and George Bush are excluded, although they would show up in a historical accounting. I am also going to list only twenty in total, with a very brief explanatory comment, although the potential list would be of large size. I invite readers to send in their own additions or emendations to my list. Perhaps Z Magazine should have an annual listing of war criminals-ED, given the unwarranted neglect of this subject by the mainstream media.




Government leaders:


1. Bill Clinton: for his contribution to welfare "reform," for his economic policy of slow growth, tight monetary and fiscal policy, and trickle-down economics, which has caused insecurity to rise and the income distribution to become more unequal in his tenure. Also for his support of Yeltsin and Russian "reform," his Iraq policy of holding 18 million people hostage and subject to an economic boycott, and his general fronting for global neoliberalism and the corporate order.


2. Boris Yeltsin: for his key role in beggaring millions of Russians, in service to a looting economic mafia and the West.


3. General Suharto: one of the great thieves (and mass murderers) of the twentieth century, who created a "favorable climate of investment" in Indonesia, and is consequently treated in the West as a "moderate" and "modernizer."


4. Mike Harris: the current Progressive [sic] Conservative Premier of Ontario, who relishes putting workers out of work and poor people out on the streets; a caricature of a rightwing ideologue, with executive power.


5. Sese Seko Mobutu: possibly the greatest thief of the twentieth century in ratio of loot to GDP, with estimated wealth in excess of $5 billion; put in place by U.S. intervention, supported by the IMF and World Bank, and very solicitous of creditor claims, if not the basic needs of his people.


6. Ernesto Zedillo: successor to Salinas as head of the PRI, in charge of managing the huge contraction of the Mexican economy at the expense of the underlying population, to keep payments flowing to Mexico’s creditors. Also responsible for the ongoing repression of peasant and indigenous uprisings.




Middle Managers:


7. Michel Camdessus: long time head of the IMF, whose structural adjustment programs have imposed enormous burdens on the world’s poor, while servicing the demands of the global transnational corporations and banks. Camdessus is very possibly directly responsible for more human deaths than any person since World War II–the neoliberal equivalent of Adolph Eichmann.


8. Allan Greenspan: Reaganite head of the Fed has not only managed a monetary policy focusing on inflation control, slow growth and a sizable reserve army of unemployed, he contributed to the S & L debacle with an adulatory letter of recommendation for S & L crook Charles Keating, now in jail for fraud.


9. James Wolfensohn: a recently appointed head of the World Bank, who continues to carry out its policies of environmentally destructive loans for dams, support for leaders like Zedillo, Suharto and Yeltsin, and structural adjustment programs for countries like Haiti–his job is criminal by structural necessity.




Business leaders:




10. Jim Bob Moffett: chairman of Freeport-McMoRan, a transnational mining company, now famous for its environmental destruction and criminal abuses of the native population in West Papua, New Guinea (under the rule of Indonesia, the company assisted by the Indonesian army); also one of the leading polluters in North America.


11. M. A. Van den Bergh, Managing Director of Royal-Dutch-Shell: for his and Shell’s role as long-time collaborator with the Nigerian dictatorship; has abused the Ogoni people’s lands for decades, keeping them under control with the help of the Nigerian military.


12. Donald Fites: the CEO of Caterpillar has set a standard in union busting, with his triumph over the UAW in a four year strike.




13. Al Dunlap: champion of down-sizing, Dunlap did a major job on Scott Paper employees, and has now been brought in to kill jobs on behalf of the stockholders at Sunbeam Corporation.


14. Charles Hurwitz: corporate raider, who cost the taxpayer $1.6 billion in S & L losses, is most famous as boss of Pacific Lumber, owner of the Headwaters Grove, the last major private ancient redwood forest in California. Pacific Lumber has been notable for ruthless clear cutting of the California redwoods.


15. William Simon: pioneer in the leveraged buyout method of ripoff, which led the way to the Reagan era buyout-merger frenzy; also a top organizer and subsidizer of neoliberal and rightwing propaganda as head of the Olin Foundation.




Economists and intellectuals:


16. Jeffrey Sachs: Harvard’s and the neoliberal world’s leading shock therapist, responsible for human devastation in Bolivia, Poland and Russia. Any failings in these shock treatments were a result of inadequate speed and comprehensiveness, not Sachs’ misunderstanding of institutions, cultures, and economics itself.


17. Arnold Harberger: Chicago School guru who was the leader of the Chicago boys in Chile, and is proud to have brought free markets to that country (over many thousands of murdered bodies).


18. Robert Bartley: editor of the Wall Street Journal, passionate supporter of supply side economics and all the death squads necessary to bring it to fruition here and abroad.


19. Charles Murray: author of the antiwelfare classic Losing Ground and the racist classic The Bell Curve, Murray has been in the intellectual forefront of the attack on the poor, weak and black.


20. Thomas Sowell: Hoover Institution economist, one of three black social scientists (the others: Walter Williams and Shelby Steele) who have given the Charles Murray slant to affirmative action and welfare state policies in general. Sowell won a close competition among the three.


This selection can be contested; the potential candidates run into the thousands. The Dirty Twenty are all "good" (i.e., despicable) candidates, but in a sense they are symbolic representatives of a large criminal class.