Smash the Consensus!

Anti-globalizationists are trying to stop the tide. Here's a better target.

Published January 7, 2006 12:29AM (EST)

Arriving in the mail this week was a copy of "Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development," by Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton.

I wish I'd had this book in hand before the Hong Kong World Trade Organization meeting in mid-December, because, after reading the first chapter, it looks like a fabulous introduction to the gnarly complexities of world-trade issues. Stiglitz was the chief economist of the World Bank from 1997 to 2000, won a Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, and wrote 2002's "Globalization and Its Discontents." He knows what he's talking about, and he melds economic rigor with a clear concern for social justice.

For now, I'd just like to note that the first chapter helped clarify something that has been confusing me since practically day one of this blog. In a response to "A Pro-Globalization Minifesto," a post in which I tried to rehabilitate the term "globalization," a reader noted that the word "is an economic term used by the neoliberals to reinstitute a low-wage labor policy."

I disagree. I think globalization is an inevitable process in which the peoples and economies of the world become more and more tightly interconnected, whether we like it or not. After reading Stiglitz, I think that what my reader was referring to is closer to something that is generally referred to as "the Washington Consensus."

As defined by Stiglitz and Charlton, "The Washington Consensus is a set of policies believed by some economists to be the formula for promoting economic growth in developing countries. These policies include privatization, fiscal discipline, trade liberalization, and deregulation. In the 1990s these policies were vigorously advocated by several powerful economic institutions located in Washington, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury."

Following the prescriptions of the Washington Consensus has screwed up a fair number of developing countries (and is one very good reason why Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia all now have populist left-leaning governments). The consensus, I think, is, or should be, the true target, of many "anti-globalization" protesters. Because as it has been applied, it has tended to serve U.S. corporate interests at the expense of developing nations and poor people around the world.

I realize it's a little cumbersome to go around calling oneself an "anti-Washington Consensus protester." But c'mon, imagine a T-shirt that read "Smash the Consensus!" Wouldn't that be kind of cool?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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