Sunday, July 1, 2018

Williamson. 1993. Democracy and the "Washington Consensus."

Williamson, John. 1993. "Development and the "Washington Consensus"." World Development 21(8):1329-36.

Three years after outlining the Washington Consensus, Williamson published again. He begins by walking back his term "Washington Consensus" and suggesting a better name is "universal convergence." Of course, the former stuck and the latter did not.

He notes that he intended to capture what was "conventionally thought to be wise" rather than his own opinion of what was wise, but adds that he agrees with it himself. However, if he were writing up a list of his own opinions, he says it would have been a bigger list because he would have added an equity component. He left out anything redistributive because he felt Washington at the top would have opposed it. I find it interesting that he conflates equity and redistribution of wealth.

Williamson sees the Washington Consensus as good economic sense that ought to cease to be political. He compares the matter to a political party taking the position that the world is flat, or promoting racism. There is no good reason any party should take the position that the earth is flat, because we all know it isn't. There is no reason to have a pro-racism party just for the sake of ideological diversity because racism is wrong. He sees any alternative to the Washington Consensus as equally irrelevant or harmful in politics. He adds that having a stable agreement among political leaders in favor of the Washington Consensus over time is necessary because it will encourage the wealthy to repatriate their money since they have confident that the current, wise economic policies of the day are going to last over time.

I just want to add here that this is infuriating nonsense. Williamson is trying to depoliticize a radical economic agenda that absolutely is and should be seen as political.

He goes on to slightly walk back his idea that the Washington Consensus should be universally accepted by all political parties by noting a few reasons why it must be open for debate. First, because any sort of suppression of debate will create a situation ripe for conspiracy theorists. Second, because there should be some degree of debate in order to assess whether the current conventional wisdom ought to remain so in the future. If there is no debate about the Washington Consensus, then we lose the ability to adapt it to future needs or improve it over time. He concludes: "Thus my position is not that democracy should be in any way circumscribed so as to promote good economic policy, but rather that both economic policy and democracy will benefit if all mainstream politicians endorse the universal convergence and the scope of political debate on economic issues is de facto circumscribed in consequence" (p. 1331).

Williamson sees the old debates over economic policy as irrelevant. Neoliberalism has won out as the "correct" way to run an economy, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. Greed should be harnessed in a competitive market because altruism does not work, and socialism does not work. He sounds like he's been reading Ayn Rand. It's also interesting that he doesn't mention Keynesian economics here as a potential alternative to neoliberalism. Either you're with him, or you're a socialist, and if you're a socialist, you are wrong. The collapse of the Soviet bloc proves that.

Honestly, I don't see the need to keep reading this article. He's not going to say anything new worth reading.

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