Dead Men Left

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Wolfowitz and neoconservative "development" II

George Monbiot is in cheeky controversialist mood:

Under Wolfowitz, my fellow progressives lament, the World Bank will work for America. If only someone else were chosen, it would work for the world's poor. Joseph Stiglitz, the bank's renegade former chief economist, champions Ernesto Zedillo, a former president of Mexico. A Guardian leading article suggested Colin Powell or, had he been allowed to stand, Bono. But what all this hand-wringing reveals is a profound misconception about the role and purpose of the body Wolfowitz will run.

The “misconception” being the thought that the World Bank was ever intended to benefit the world’s poor, detailing a sordid history of the institution from the drawing-board of US Treasury’s Dexter White, through Robert McNamara stewardship, to its most recent President, James Wolfensohn. Throughout is the desire to hear Washington, and its favoured clients like Suharto and Mobutu, above the concerns of workers and peasants in the countries the World Bank claims to be aiding. Monbiot provides a useful rejoinder to the utopianism of the many liberal voices that would desperately hope to see the World Bank functioning “properly” and have been so concerned at Wolfowitz’s appointment.

Where he is wrong, however, is in assuming that this appointment is irrelevant to the Bank’s functioning. As listed previously here, in a slightly meandering fashion, the Bush administration has maintained a perhaps surprising interest in development issues. What Susanne Soederberg has called “pre-emptive” development is foremost, in which overtly political goals are placed ahead of the more discretely managerial and purportedly economic concerns of previous development strategies.

The high-point of development managerialism was the regin of the so-called “Washington Consensus”, a broad, neoliberal programme deemed suitable for the global South throughout the 1990s. It has collapsed spectacularly in recent years, with a former World Bank chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, describing its dismemberment with some relish and to the great delight of the anti-neoliberal global justice movement. Although many amongst them are (rightly) deeply cynical about such talk, Stiglitz now speaks of a “post-Washington Consensus” world, in which (according to the WHO) “sustainable, egalitarian and democratic development [is] at the heart of the agenda”. But the Washington Consensus has broken in two parts. Wolfowitz’s appointment must be seen in this context, as a break with prior neoliberal practice and a move towards the deliberate and overt politicisation of world development on terms amenable to the Bush Doctrine.