Globalization critics confront Bank in e-conference

11 August 2000

An online debate on Globalization and Poverty in May generated much interesting material. Co-organized by the PANOS Institute and the World Bank, the discussion attracted some 5,000 officials, researchers and NGO representatives. The report of the exchange comments that “although there had been many efforts at consultation and listening, the Bank still did not know how to engage in argument with its critics or with those who disagreed with it within developing countries”.

The discussion began with the question whether globalization of trade leads to economic growth, and whether growth is good for the poor. The report comments:

“both sides argue that both the data-gathering methodologies and the interpretation of the data are open to debate. Meanwhile, personal perceptions and day-to-day observations of the impacts of globalization-liberalisation tend to contradict the arguments of neoliberalism. Contributions were overwhelmingly against what they perceived as the narrow northern business-oriented economic analysis of the Bretton Woods Institutions”.

The PANOS Institute report of the debate is rich in insights, and extracts from key contributions. For example: N. Srinivasan, an Indian development banker commented “the market seems to be cornerstone of all theories of globalization. The market has a very narrow and short term view which prevents it taking into account those who are not seen as profit potential. Globalization may improve growth rates, increase productivity, enhance technological capability but cannot redistribute created wealth and income in favour of the poor. In fact it does the reverse.”

Desta Mebratu, an engineer from Ethiopia, commented that “decades of external influence in different forms have destroyed and undermined the traditional institutional mechanisms while creating islands of modern institutions that are inefficient and alienated from the society at large … the tendency is to continuously attempt to transplant new generation of institutions with little recognition to such wealth of knowledge”.

The final report of the debate concludes:

“While the Bank and other international institutions are strong at making macro level arguments about sound financial policy and strategy, they are poor at marshalling arguments or examples that demonstrate the micro level benefits of globalization for the poor. The debate was very heavily dominated by coherent and reasoned critics of globalization and a litany of evidence at the micro level of how globalization worked directly against the interests of the poor. Bank staff appeared unused to dealing with a well-informed, hostile public audience, and some of the most emotional and defensive contributions to the debate came from the Bank staff participants.”

See also: Localization – a Global Manifesto, Earthscan, 2000, and;

Paradigm Lost: Critical Voices on Globalization and the Big Hole in Finances for Development, New Economics Foundation, June, 2000,