close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

September 19, 2020

Consensual development

Opinion

September 19, 2020

On the basis of a relatively objective and reasonably extensive purview of major international development initiatives, it is hard to be either an ardent supporter or an impassioned detractor of the work of the development sector.

This is mainly because the major ideas of international development as practically experienced by different countries of the developing world show some major successes, some dismal failures and all varieties of outcomes in between.

Alongside this variability of outcomes is the invariability of the flow of major ideas of development from the developed West to the developing rest. These two characteristics of the development sector combine to confirm that there always has been, and still very much remains, a dire need to meaningfully incorporate local developing country contexts into the design and implementation of the major ideas of international development.

These two characteristics – variability of outcomes and the invariable top-down flow of major development ideas – are instantiated in the decades-long development thrust called the ‘Washington Consensus’. This label was first used by John Williamson in 1989 and was used to refer to ten or so policies that included government fiscal discipline and austerity measures, tax reforms, financial market liberalization, removal of direct controls on interest rates, competitive exchange rates with a preference for market-determined rates, a freer trade policy, liberalization of foreign direct investment, and an emphasis on privatization of government owned enterprises.

This consensus and its constituent policies, like various other major development ideas, dominated the development sector for more than a decade. Along with developing countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, many countries in Asia, including Pakistan, adopted the policy prescriptions advocated by the Washington Consensus.

There is a subtle irony in the widespread use of the label ‘Washington Consensus’ to refer to these sets of policy prescriptions. The irony is that the word ‘consensus’ conjures up notions of wide-ranging international support when in reality this approach was a very top-down prescription to development that was promoted primarily by the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and World Bank) and was in line with the thinking of the government in the US at the time.

With time, the shortcomings of the Washington Consensus became more and more apparent during the closing years of the twentieth century. As its shortcomings became increasingly apparent, it was discredited and gradually replaced. The rise and fall of the Washington Consensus depict an oft-repeated saga with major ideas of international development.

Why then are such policies still confidently promoted by the West and subsequently readily accepted by the developing non-West? The deeply structural answer perhaps lies in an amalgamation of ideas put forth by post-structural and post-colonial scholars. Nonetheless, we need to recognize that significant structural change is usually slow and difficult to achieve.

All is not bad with international development but that does not mean that all is good. Many specific major development ideas, undertaken with great fanfare and enthusiasm, falter, and go out with solemn silence, often in the shadow of the next, ‘new and much improved’ development paradigm.

To remedy this situation, we need to recognize that there is a built-in bias that skews policy proposals away from ground realities in developing countries on account of the reality that prominent ideas on international development emanate from the developed West and travel vast distances to reach the impoverished borders of the developing non-West. These distances, in addition to geographical separation, also include significant separations in culture and values. Still, these imported ideas can sometimes dominate development discourse, design and implementation in developing countries for decades.

The dominance of these development ideas eventually recedes in light of the mixed results that emerge during the process of actual implementation. To break this cycle of initial preponderance and subsequent precariousness, what is needed is an extended and more inclusive dialogue between the developing and developed countries to effectively tailor ideas on international development so that they better fit locally prevailing contexts.

The writer heads a university-based

policy centre in Islamabad.