The Bretton Woods Project website will feature summaries and analysis of issues and background papers in preparation for and during the annual meetings. Please email us with suggestions, links etc.
IFI criticism intensifies ahead of meetings: After Genoa, the next stop for the global protest caravan is the Bank and Fund annual meetings in Washington DC. Conservative estimates have put the number of expected protesters at 40,000 but with trade union backing, numbers could be far higher. The Bank, Fund and government delegations are changing their plans in response.
Bank assesses globalisation facts and fears: “Some anxieties are well-founded,” agrees a major new World Bank Report that outlines evidence and an agenda for action on globalisation.
Globalisation debate face challenges
Facing imminent protests of thousands of people in Washington DC for their annual meetings 29-30 September, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have agreed to a public debate with leading activists. But some fear there is little common ground.
“There is a strong sense of people talking past each other,” commented Prof. Ravi Kanbur. In his paper Economic Policy, Distribution and Poverty: The Nature of Disagreements he depicts two stylized groups broadly divided between economists (mainly of western, Anglo-Saxon training) and development professionals and researchers (often non-economists). Kanbur points to fundamental differences in perspective on three key features affecting economic policy: market structure, aggregation and time horizon. These differences may be insurmountable unless hard core argumentation is loosened up from both sides.
“Especially among some parts of the international financial institutions (IFIs) and the G7 Treasuries the tendency is for the policy messaging – for example on trade and openness – to be sharp and hard, for fear that to do otherwise would be read as a sign of weakness by ‘the other side’,” he notes.
The World Bank has prepared a detailed defense of globalisation in time for the annual meetings stating it is a “powerful force for poverty reduction”. Yet it does admit that billions of people are failing to benefit from globalisation and “accepts that it has some adverse effects”. NGOs called it “business as usual” and said it failed to set an agenda for making globalisation work for the poor. (FT, 14 Aug 2001).
“There is no value in having debates turn into stunts, but if security can be guaranteed, the IMF and World Bank ought to put their arguments to debate not only in the United States but in every continent,” comments a Guardian leader (UK). “They are publicly financed bodies which need to admit they have no monopoly on expertise…” the leader continues.
In a proposal from protest groups, “independent journalists” would moderate the debate between the Bretton Woods institutions and their opponents.
The annual meetings, which usually span over a whole week, were shortened to just two days in the face of expected protests (FT, 11 Aug 2001). “Whether they meet for six days or two, the institutions’ agenda remains the same: more layoffs, less government spending on social programs, less credit for small farmers and businesses, more privatisation and higher corporate profits,” responded Njoke Njoroge, Director of 50 Years is Enough, one of the lead protest mobilising groups (Institute for Public Accuracy, 13 Aug 2001).
While lawyers for anti-globalisation protesters filed a lawsuit against the Washington police department arguing that planned measures to contain demonstrations were “unconstitutional”, officials welcomed the decision to shorten the meetings. “We are thinking of faxing the demonstrators a list of forthcoming meetings we would like shortened,” FT quoted one official. “United Nations conferences would come high up the list.”
The World Bank and IMF will host two days of online debates in the run-up to the meetings in addition to exchanges with protesters 27-28 September. The debates will focus on globalisation and its impact on the environment, decision-making, corruption and culture and will be open to anybody with access to the Internet.
Protests planned between 26 Sep-3 Oct will include direct action and a massive rally at the IMF meetings. The US Network for Global Economic Justice: 50 Years is Enough has also outlined eight demands that supporters can endorse.
The Official World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings website contains online press registration and background information to the meetings.