Economic crimes against humanity

Who did more damage: his army or his economists?

Who did more damage: his army or his economists?

Mike Smith over at’s Global Health Blog, discusses the long-term damage that Robert Mugabe’s regime has inflicted on the Zimbabwean health system.

It’s a good reminder that, while we’ve often been fixated on the brutality of Mugabe’s political repression, it is the economic and social changes he has brought to his country that have done the most damage: life expectancy has collapsed, maternal and infant mortality rates have skyrocketed; the country’s ability to feed itself has vanished and any skilled worker with enough brains and cash to leave has done so (which must account for a portion of the life-expectancy drop).

Thanks to the adoption of the ill-conceived power-sharing agreement it now seems highly unlikely that Robert Mugabe will be punished for his thuggish grip on power and the multitude of human rights abuses that resulted. This is a shame, although perhaps a necessary evil. Let’s imagine that he was up for prosecution – what would be considered his greater crime: his abuse of power or public policy? Or is it the interaction of the two that made the difference?

When politicians play fair (which admittedly isn’t very often) the electoral mechanism tends to work well enough. It is far from perfect at picking the best policies, but it’s not bad at chucking out those who embrace disastrous policies. This should be an encouraging thought: functioning democracies (recall that democracies are more than just elections) will ditch ruinous policies. Those of you that are now thinking wistfully of awful decisions made by your own governments should reconsider your perspective: Mugabe effectively destroyed his own country.

Since the amazing fiasco that was the indictment of Sudanes president Omar al-Bashiri I’ve become quite skeptical of the international community’s ability to credibly police bad heads-of-state. For fun, let’s suspend our skepticism for a moment and consider adding a new crime to our list: economic crimes against humanity.

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