LAS AMERICAS The Washington Consensus BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE It used to be that the word “development” had two distinct connotations in Washington. The first had to do with raising money and peddling influence among the First World rich, as in “The development department raised $3 billion for the Rockefeller Foundation.” The second meant putatively raising living standards for the Third World poor, as in, “Rapid development in Mexico has not addressed the serious malnutrition problem among children.” In 1990, however, the distinctions blurred when the latter type of development also became a project directly devoted to money-raising and money-making. The World Bank and the I.M.F. would manage access to this challenging new development market, according to an agreement they forged called “The Washington Consensus.” The Washington Consensus advocates first the privatization, then the deregulation, and finally the downsizing of the public sector in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Hence, the dramatic proliferation of promising new business opportunities. With the adoption of the Consensus, development acquired a slightly different dual meaning in our nation’s capital: bribing and bullying on the one hand and begging and peddling on the other. This two-pronged approach would best be conducted through partners, by which the Consensus boosters meant elite First together with rich Third Worlders \(begging consequences of this group decision was that the word “partner” became a verb, as in “to partner.” If you use the word in a sentence, you get, for example, “The InterAmerican Development Bank will partner with Home Depot to market the remaining Peruvian hardwoods in Japan.” Something like that. Or, “The World Bank, partnering with Olivetti and Microsoft, has automated secondary education for poor people in southern Chile.” So. Here in Washington, most of the partnering is orchestrated by an amorphous organizational mass called Civil Society, which is often a little tricky to understand. Civil Society includes for example, General Electric, the P.T.A., the Mafia, Texaco, your daughter’s Brownie troop, and the AFL-CIO. As the happy result of streamlining government and democratizing public participation in official decision making, ground rules and playing fields in the competition for access and dollars are the level same for all. Here’s how it works. / t’s two-thirty in the afternoon high atop World Bank Headquarters at 19th and Pennsylvania, outside the temporarilydeserted President’s Conference Room. There sits Peter Hakim, President of the Inter-American Dialogue, waiting for the afternoon session of the meeting of Latin American Finance and Education Ministers to reconvene. According to itself, the Dialogue is the “premier center for policy analysis and exchange on Western Hemisphere affairs.” And not just that. “The Dialogue’s select membership of one hundred distinguished citizens from throughout the Americas includes political, business, academic, media and other non-governmental leaders.” Oh wow. Like Mr. Hakim, presumably, who now slouches deep in a plush easy chair at the end of the wood-paneled hall hung with the somber portraits of the Bank’s past presidents. Behind him is a spectacular view of downtown Washington, from the White House to the Capitol, but he is unimpressed because he’s about to get busy. On his cell phone, he tells his office, “I’m not getting back there this afternoon. I’m over here kissing every ass I can find.” Without going far, Mr. Hakim can find an impressive number of asses around here. Many of them are trundling down the long hall to their places in the conference room, kissing each other as they go the privileged international elite of Washington, and their guests from foreign parts. The Bank is putting on a show: Building Latin America’s Future: Public-Private Partnerships for Education. This afternoon’s matinee promises to be fascinating. The Honorable Ruth Richardson, former Finance Minister from New Zealand, will speak to the con vened about her success in breaking a national teachers’ union. She has been dining out on this accomplishment in Washington’s international fiscal circles for about five years now a long-running hit in a class with Les Miserables. Let’s take our seats and tune in our polyglottal headsets. We can pretend we’re part of the group because, don’t forget, we are Civil Society, too. High above the assembled sit the anointed, looking for all the world like the Politburo. At the center is World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and next to him sits the New Zealand Minister. Her World-Bank-prepared bio tells us, “While Minister of Finance, The Hon. Ruth Richardson also initiated the redesign of New Zealand’s social policy, leading to major education reforms.” And how. Head thrust forward and jaw set, she begins. You cannot cave in to a union, she tells these guys. Public school teachers are holding the whole world hostage Canada and the U.S., too with their mind-numbing insistence on steady wages and COLAs, their depressing job security and their extortionist pensions. But New Zealand busted it up. No one was going to make little Ruthie play and share with others and get away with it. If the union wouldn’t take the cheesy package that she offered, then the teachers could take a flying leap and she would help to shove them off. And that’s just what she did. Education costs the government less now in New Zealand. Meantime, The Honorable has become a private consultant, and the Bank has paid her handsomely for this afternoon’s inspiring performance. Our Mr. Hakim sits plopped at the end of a long table under the portraits. The distinguished citizens from Hakim’s Dialogue and the desperate Latin American Finance Ministers are lapping up her wit and wisdom. Someone asks a tiresome question about how to handle long-term and unknown financial implications of collective bargaining 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER. JANUARY 21, 2000
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