The IMF and Global Dispossession

May 16th, 2021

This post is an explainer to a class project titled The IMF and Global Dispossession, created for the Fruits of Empire seminar in Spring 2021, led by Professor Gary Okihiro and Erich Kessel. See here to read a paper that is essentially a long-form explanation of this same blog post, minus the notes here on learning code.

To view the full visualization, click here.

Under the stated purpose of ensuring loan repayment and financial stability, the IMF maintains a policy of conditionality with Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs)

My project focuses on specifically the stipulation to move the country towards the export of manufactured goods. John Smith contends in Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century that these transformed trade relationships recapitulate old forms of economic subjugation: where colonizers in the metropole would extract resources from periphery colonies that they had formal control over, today the Global North extracts manufactured goods from the Global South. Laborers in the Global South produce these goods but are provided often-inhumane wages, while the value from these goods is realized in the Global North both as GDP and as corporate profit.

How do the import-export relationships John Smith discusses come to be? My project locates one answer in the IMF’s predatory lending practices and policy packages. This turn not only asks us to consider the international policy maneuvers creating long-term economic subjugation but also the racial logic of debt behind them. I wrote about this in the paper linked above as a form of racialized accumulation by dispossession, or a part of the violent social processes privatizing public and indigenous resources to generate profit. I contend that IMF loans in particular are a manifestation of debts that cannot be repaid, not because there will always be outstanding loan amounts but because SAPs create new dependency relationships from the Global South to the Global North — social debts that are meant to be in place forever. The implementaiton of these permanent social debts rely on what Denise Ferreira da Silva terms analytics of raciality that cast some to lack moral and intellectual attributes necessary to be proper economic subjects. Debts that cannot be repaid require improper economic subjects for whom supposedly universal rules do not apply.

This map displays these relationships by showing loan recipient countries in red, each recipient’s top five increased export destinations over the next five years in blue, and lines connecting these countries to show the flow of goods from the Global South to Global North. Users can zoom in with the mouse wheel or by double-clicking, flick or slowly drag to move the map, and change the year displayed through the slider at the top of the page.

This project represented a challenge for me. I had previously worked in d3.js (see a project here), but this project still meant overcoming both technical and academic hurdles to turn something coherent in:

  • The enter-update-exit paradigm and selection paradigms: I previously wrote that these essential paradigms of d3 were what I focused on and tried to grasp as I hashed out another visualization project. But even as I began making this map, I found myself forgetting the order of first selecting, then adding data, then entering, then appending elements. My previous project did not really heavily on the enter-update-exit paradigm, so this wasn’t a large concern then, but this project requires continual update of selections as the user changes the year that the loan was received. This blog post by Mike Bostock helped greatly understand what was actually going on and what I had to select at which times. I feel much, much more comfortable in these paradigms now that I have finished this project.

  • d3.geo and d3.inertia were two of the completely new tools to this project, but tools that I hope to use for many tools in the future. d3.geo refers to the set of digital cartography tools in d3, which translate geographic coordinates to pixels on the screen. Learning how to choose the right projection, format my data correctly, and create a smooth auto-rotation took a few more minutes that I would have liked, but they worked eventually. d3.inertia takes these features further by allowing the user to drag the globe and adding “inertia” when the user releases the mouse, to prevent the globe rotation to come to a stop smoothly. This was actually quite annoying to work with because the localhost or server on my computer did not produce a smooth drag, but this issue seems fixed now that I have pushed everything onto its own website.

  • Jargon, post-Marxist critical theory, and the analytics of raciality. The third “coding” challenge was a decoding challenge— working through literature that was much more abstract than I was used to and trying to apply it to the data I had. Thank you to Erich Kessel (TF for the seminar this project was completed in) for helping with readings and understanding new text!

At the very beginning of a project involving unfamiliar code, I find myself constantly referencing StackOverflow answers, copy and pasting code that looks useful, and debugging. As I learn more about how the code/language/library works, I feel more comfortable writing the code myself and eventually look to online resources to fix existing code instead of provide code from scratch. When I began the map of Korean musicians, I was clueless about d3 and even what the DOM was, and had to look up code for every single part of the project; now that I have finished this project, I feel that I’ve grasped the essential tools of d3 that allow many different projects to be built without constant use of a reference tool.