Oil-rich Mexico's announcement last August that it could not pay back on time $14 billion of its debts set in motion a chain of events that kept bankers, borrowers and government officials on tenterhooks for months.
By the time Mexico made its announcement about its debts (which total more than $80 billion), Poland already was in arrears--many of its industries paralyzed by labor strife. Then Brazil and Argentina, too, announced they had borrowed tens of billions of dollars they could not repay on schedule.
The eight-month-old debt crisis among major developing countries has been the international economic story of the 1980s.
Tonight an "ABC News Close-Up" (Channel 7 at 10), "On Borrowed Time," looks at why the world's biggest banks lent so much money to developing countries and why those countries are having difficulty repaying.
The world's most immediate news medium, though, has taken eight months to deal with the crisis, which many experts now feel is well on the way to solution. The ABC offering, narrated by correspondent Pierre Salinger, is not only late, it fails to bring a fresh approach to the topic.
"On Borrowed Time" is mostly a rehash of stale news gussied up with breathless, eventually unfulfilled promises to tell viewers what it means to them, their jobs and their standard of living.
The show bandies about ominous phrases such as "world banking collapse." Neither Salinger nor the string of experts interviewed tells us what a collapse is, let alone what it would mean. The show also fails to examine the tools the government has at its disposal to keep the banking system going even if Mexico, Brazil and Argentina stood up tomorrow and collectively repudiated the $200 billion they owe the world.
As for the U.S. economy and its workers, undoubtedly there would be a price to pay if a nation such as Brazil reneged on its debts. But beyond several mentions that jobs would be endangered and the effects of a collapse would be "horrendous," the report neglects to examine carefully just how much Americans would suffer.
The facts are that about one of every 100 U.S. jobs hinges on exports to developing countries. Already developing countries are importing far fewer goods than a few years ago as they tighten their belts to hold down the need for new loans. If all developing countries were to stop buying from the United States, fewer than 1 percent of the nation's jobs would be directly affected.
That's a lot of jobs and a lot of pain for a lot of people. But the domestic recession that's been going on for the last few years has left more than 10 percent of the work force unemployed