God's Politics

Normally I’m a big fan of science fiction, but I nearly swallowed my teeth when I heard America Abroad’s recent program on the World Bank on my local NPR affiliate, WAMU, last Sunday. My choppers would have been a lot easier to stomach than the show’s assertion that, in the 1980s, policies pushed by the World Bank and U.S., “had succeeded in solving the [developing world’s] debt crisis.”

Tell that to the African nations today that have to spend more on debt interest payments than on health care – in the middle of the AIDS pandemic. If that isn’t a crisis, what is?

Tell it to the Jubilee activists around the world who really won the debt relief which has happened so far. Tell it to Rev. Duncombe and the other Jubilee USA activists, who are currently praying, lobbying, and participating in a rolling fast to support the Jubilee Act, which would expand debt relief to the 67 countries that need it in order to have any hope of meeting the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals.

In another apparent foray into a galaxy far, far away, America Abroad’s show claimed not only that the debt problem had been solved, but that it had been solved by the market fundamentalist “structural adjustment” policies pushed by the World Bank and the U.S. (often under the paradigm dubbed the “Washington Consensus.”) In reality, these policies not only shredded social safety nets and left millions of peasant farmers out in the cold, but also dramatically slowed economic growth.

Not to mention that market fundamentalism is not at all how China and India achieved rapid economic growth in recent decades, as one Harvard professor puts it:

With high levels of trade protection, lack of privatization, extensive industrial policies, and lax [sic] fiscal and financial policies through the 1990s, these two economies hardly looked like exemplars of the Washington Consensus.

Where did I find this radical anti-establishment propaganda? Actually, by entering the search term “Washington Consensus” into the World Bank’s own website. But you won’t hear such information on America Abroad, which attributed the Washington Consensus-driven policies’ failure largely to local corruption.

In many cases, I enjoy cheesy fantasy on the airwaves. I kind of like that new television show about a vampire who fights crime. But America Abroad’s straight-faced defense of “structural adjustment” – which has been such a resounding economic, moral, and social failure that even the IMF tried to hide it under a different name – is way too bizarre a foray into alternate reality for anyone to swallow.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an assistant editor of Sojourners.

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