Development Policy in the Twenty-First Century: Beyond the Post- Washington Consensus
By Motta, Sara
Ben Fine, Costas Lapavitsas and Jonathan Pincus (eds.) Development Policy in the Twenty-First Century: Beyond the Post- Washington Consensus Routledge, 2001, 240 pp. ISBN: 0-415-30618-3 (pbk) 28 ISBN: 0-415-22822-0 (hbk) 95
This anthology offers a critical political economy of the World Bank's development agenda, as found in the Washington consensus and in the post-Washington consensus. First, it disentangles the empirical and theoretical flaws of the neoliberal economics of the Washington consensus. It then exposes the way the focus on institutions and 'good governance' of the post-Washington consensus is, in many ways, an extension of the assumptions and analysis of the Washington consensus into the realm of politics and social theory.
While tackling different elements of the post-Washington consensus, from its theoretical underpinnings in new institutional economics to its central concepts such as those of human and social capital, the contributors to this volume are united in their attempt to show the weaknesses, flaws and dangers of this agenda for the South. The authors convincingly explain how the foundations of the post-Washington consensus, and the analysis of its intellectual architect, Joseph Stiglitz, are based on the methodological indivi- dualism, ahistoricism, economism and apoliticism of the Washington consensus. The post-Washington consensus can be analysed as the further encroachment of international institutions, dominated by the G8 powers and with the United States at the forefront, to intervene and determine not only the economics but also the politics of southern states. However, the anthology fails to engage with debates regarding the legitimacy of the World Bank in its interventions in the South. This is arguably one of its most serious shortcomings, as it could act to re-legitimise the current international institutional and political framework.
The anthology is in an ambiguous relationship with developmentalism and the World Bank. It fluctuates between, on the one hand, openly supporting a return to national developmentalism and the possibility of reforming institutions like the World Bank; and on the other, refraining from offering prescriptions for development, or any comment about the potential for reform in international financial institutions (IFIS). Fine, Lapavitsas and Khan develop a critique of the post-Washington consensus without addressing the questions of how, or even if, it is possible to make the market work in a progressive way. Bayliss and Cramer, Deraniyagala and Die Lo, on the other hand, critique the World Bank's development agenda by attempting to show how to make the market work better and more fairly for developing nations.
The contributions that develop a critique of the post-Washington consensus disentangle the methodological, theoretical and empirical assumptions on which the consensus is based. They explain how this agenda mystifies the development process with its focus on new informational economics, which takes (a narrow) economic theory to the study of politics and society, without taking social theory to the study of economics. The impoverishment of development studies that follows, the authors argue, ignores the power relationships and class struggle that help us to explain develop-ment or its lack, reduces human rationality to that of capitalist man, and omits any notion of tension between human emancipation and capital accumulation. Capital accumulation, as the authors continually stress, is embedded in the social and political relationships to be found in concrete historical settings.
Those in the second category of analysis that is to be found in this edition-that of making the market work in developing nations- attempt to highlight the problems of the economic theory contained in the post-Washington consensus. Their empirical referent is South- East Asia. The theoretical assumptions underlying the counterexample that they offer to the freemarket economics of the post-Washington consensus are based on state developmentalism.
Conveniently overlooked, in their analysis of economic policy, is the relationship of the popular classes of the South-East Asian 'tigers' with their respective states. This relationship has been characterised by the ability of state elites to de-class and discipline the working class. The problem in this approach is that the state as a site of domination and struggle, embedded in international relations of inequality, is missed. Instead it is posited that if governments in the South were allowed to pursue a specific set of neo-structuralist policies, then economic development would follow. This underestimates and under-theorises the relationship between core and periphery nations, and the changing role of developing nations in the international political economy of neoliberalism. It leaves unaddressed the issue of the tendency to crisis and declining rate of profit in capitalist accumulation, and assumes a cumulative relationship between economic growth and redistribution. The de-classing of the state in this analysis assumes that the state and its policy-making process is the potentially autonomous site of economic development.
The weaknesses in this approach help to highlight elements of continuity between the post-Washington consensus and some of the edition's contributions. The post-Washington consensus is ahistorical in its analysis of the conditions of economic develop- ment, equating them with access to, or lack of, correct information. It focuses on the role of the state and its failure to create the conditions for levelling-out information blockages and enabling successful development. The statist focus found in the edition's contributions, while arguing for different economic policies and working within a different methodological framework to that of the World Bank, does not critically interrogate the state as a form of capitalist social relations and as a site of domination.
Rather, like the post-Washington consensus, the state is seen as the cornerstone in enabling economic development. In the making of such a theoretical assumption, the development process is equated with a specific set of conditions to be found post-1945. This turns a concrete historical experience into an abstract and ahistorical theory of development, creating a thread of methodological unity between the post-Washington consensus and some of its critics in this edition.
The anthology's rationale is a critique of the terms, and at times implicitly the authority, of international financial institutions such as the World Bank in defining the development agenda.
However, within the edition there is a tension that remains unresolved between those who aim to influence the World Bank in order to improve its analysis, and those who would question the basis of the World Bank's right to intervene in a developing nation's affairs.
While this works well on a theoretical level, as it presents the readers with a complex and nuanced critique of the post-Washington consen-sus, it is less motivating and more ambiguous on a political level. Nevertheless, the complexity and diversity of analysis, the authors' ability to link theory with empirical analysis, and the methodological unity of the pieces make this book an essential read for those concerned with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and their role in the theory and practice of development.
Sara Motta teaches Latin American and comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and researches the political economy of neoliberalism, alternatives to neoliberalism, and the politics of resistance in Latin America.
Copyright Conference of Socialist Economists Spring 2006