The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forced an African maid to suck his dick. This is what a hotel maid claims happened on May 14, 2011. She, an immigrant from Guinea, an extremely poor West African country, entered a $3,000-a-night room in the Sofitel Hotel in New York City with the intention of doing her shitty little job, cleaning up after rich people. Suddenly, a naked white man was all over her. Suddenly, a French white man was trying to fuck her. Suddenly, an old white man thrust his dick into her mouth. The white man turned out to be running an institution her poor country knows all too well.
If this story turns out to be true—if Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted the hotel maid, an accusation that got him pulled out of a plane heading to Paris, charged on May 16, and sent to Rikers Island, and has now cost him his job—then, my God, where do we begin? It's just too much. You know what I mean? Really, take a moment and imagine this: A theater group stages a play about the head of the IMF forcing a poor African woman to have sex with him. What perfect symbols! He is powerful; she is weak. He is white; she is black. He is a man; she is a woman. He orders her to pleasure his cock; she fights to free herself—she fights for her rights, for her independence, for her dignity. Imagine watching this play on some college campus. Total rubbish. You'd accuse the playwright and the players of lacking any subtlety, imagination, refinement—and you would be correct. This is as bad as didactic drama gets. It's unrealistic.
Yet it's very possibly reality—this pinko fantasy power and exploitation might have happened. And not in any old place, but in New York City. In Manhattan. Roughly 50 blocks from Wall Street. This incredible crime allegedly happened in the capital of capitalism, the very hub around which the whole wheel of the economic world turns. Here, right by Times Square, the square that celebrates the glory of free enterprise with the brightest lights and brilliant image, a man who heads the institution that has been central to transforming the planet into one big market and placing Wall Street at the center of that market made an African woman...
You get the picture.
Everyone gets the picture. Cultural theorist Steven Shaviro: "It is almost too metaphorically apt that the head of the IMF appears to be a serial rapist." Comedian Jon Stewart: "That's like a live-action metaphor. The head of the IMF trying to fuck an African?" Columnist Maureen Dowd: "Was the chief of the International Monetary Fund telling other countries to tighten their belts while he was dropping his trousers?"
This is how many people see the IMF: a $1 trillion institution that is favorable to rich nations and very unfavorable to poor ones. Each of its policy prescriptions for loans (keep inflation low, cut government spending, open capital markets, protect intellectual property rights, and so on) is a stick that enforces neoliberal discipline. Who are neoliberals? Basically, wealthy people who have loads of money and want to make loads more money. What do neoliberals want from poor countries? Cheap labor. Disciplined labor. Precarious labor. And no goddamn taxes or any of that regulation shit.
The IMF was not born a monster; it was something of an angel of peace. The IMF and the World Bank were set up in 1944 in Bretton Woods, a New Hampshire resort, to help stabilize and rebuild a world torn apart by years of war. This was the role the IMF pretty much played until the debt crisis of the early 1980s.
South Korean economist and Cambridge professor Ha-Joon Chang explains this transition in his brilliant book Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Chang explains that after the debt crisis of 1982 in the third world, "the roles of both the IMF and the World Bank changed dramatically. They started to exert a much stronger policy influence on developing countries through their joint operation of so-called structural adjustment programs (SAP). These programs covered a much wider range of policies than what the Bretton Woods Institutions had originally been mandated to do... In the 1990s, there was a further advance in this 'mission creep' as they started attaching so-called governance conditionalities to their loans. These involved intervention in hitherto unthinkable areas, like democracy, government decentralization, central bank independence, and corporate governance."
SAPs—also called Economic Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAP)—essentially force poor countries to tighten their belts, as Maureen Dowd has it. Governments have to balance budgets by laying off workers, cutting wages, killing entitlements, and turning over major industries and financial institutions to private ownership. The result of these cuts is pain for middle-class people and lots of pain for poor people. If the policies don't work, the IMF tells you that you are not doing enough, that the cuts are insufficient, that you must double, triple, quadruple the economic pain. No pain, no gain. In Zimbabwe, which implemented IMF policies in the early 1990s, ESAP was nicknamed Extra Suffering for African People.
In fact, the country the hotel maid came from, Guinea (formerly called French Guinea— yes, this business of a Jewish Frenchman allegedly raping a Muslim African woman also has a colonial layer), implemented not one but two ESAPs—from 1989 to 1991 and 1991 to 1994. I have yet to read anything positive about either of these adjustment programs. They seem to have made things worse. Not only because they put lots of people out of work and local consumption fell, but also because they exposed the little country to great global economic storms: the crashing of the economy after 9/11, the Wall Street crash of 2008, the collapse of world prices for aluminum in the late 1990s (apparently, all Guinea is in the eyes of Europeans/Americans/Chinese is a big pile of cheap bauxite), and so on. Poor African nations are not the only ones hit hard by IMF policies; developed countries also have to bend over and receive blows—South Korea in 1997, Greece in 2010.
On May 9, 2010, almost exactly a year before Strauss-Kahn walked out of a bathroom naked and allegedly forced a poor woman to suck his French prick, he said, "The IMF has demonstrated its commitment to doing what it can to help Greece and its people." He added, "The road ahead will be difficult," but the government of Greece had put forth a "credible program" for its economy that included "protection for the most vulnerable groups."
The country he was fucking, Greece, had to meet the IMF's loan conditionality: make dramatic cuts in public spending. This, of course, has brought extra suffering for people who had nothing to do with the debt crisis and the financial crash on Wall Street.
Once again: The man who runs the organization that has been in the business of fucking over desperate or impoverished countries for three decades might have attempted to forcefully fuck a woman from an African country. This is the institutional unconscious, this is a live-action metaphor, this is just too much.
This article has been subtly corrected since its original publication.