Promise of Global Institutions
Broken Promises
Freedom to Choose?

excerpted from the book

Globalization and Its Discontents

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

WW Norton, 2003, paper

Why has globalization-a force that has brought so much good-become so controversial? Opening up to international trade has helped many countries grow far more quickly than they would otherwise have done. International trade helps economic development when a country's exports drive its economic growth. Exported growth was the centerpiece of the industrial policy that enriched much of Asia and left millions of people there far better off. Because of globalization many people in the world now live longer than before and their standard of living is far better. People in the West may regard low-paying jobs at Nike as exploitation, but for many people in the developing world, working in a factory is a far better option than staying down on the farm and growing rice.

Globalization has reduced the sense of isolation felt in much of the developing world and has given many people in the developing countries access to knowledge well beyond the reach of even the wealthiest in any country a century ago. The antiglobalization protests themselves are a result of this connectedness. Links between activists in different parts of the world, particularly those links forged through Internet communication, brought about the pressure that resulted in the international landmines treaty-despite the opposition of many powerful governments. Signed by 121 countries as of 1997, it reduces the likelihood that children and other innocent victims will be maimed by mines. Similar, well-orchestrated public pressure forced the international community to forgive the debts of some of the poorest countries. Even when there are negative sides to globalization, there are often benefits. Opening up the Jamaican milk market to U.S. imports in 1992 may have hurt local dairy farmers but it also meant poor children could get milk more cheaply. New foreign firms may hurt protected state-owned enterprises but they can also lead to the introduction of new technologies, access to new markets, and the creation of new industries.

Foreign aid, another aspect of the globalized world, for all its faults still has brought benefits to millions, often in ways that have almost gone unnoticed: guerrillas in the Philippines were provided jobs by a World Bank-financed project as they laid down their arms; irrigation projects have more than doubled the incomes of farmers lucky enough to get water; education projects have brought literacy to the rural areas; in a few countries AIDS projects have helped contain the spread of this deadly disease.

Those who vilify globalization too often overlook its benefits. But the proponents of globalization have been, if anything, even more unbalanced. To them, globalization (which typically is associated with accepting triumphant capitalism, American style) is progress; developing countries must accept it, if they are to grow and to fight poverty effectively. But to many in the developing world, globalization has not brought the promised economic benefits.

A growing divide between the haves and the have-nots has left increasing numbers in the Third World in dire poverty, living on less than a dollar a day. Despite repeated promises of poverty reduction ~ made over the last decade of the twentieth century, the actual number of people living in poverty has actually increased by almost 100 million. This occurred at the same time that total world income increased by an average of 2.5 percent annually.

In Africa, the high aspirations following colonial independence have been largely unfulfilled. Instead, the continent plunges deeper into misery, as incomes fall and standards of living decline. The hard-won improvements in life expectancy gained in the past few decades have begun to reverse. While the scourge of AIDS is at the center of this decline, poverty is also a killer. Even countries that have abandoned African socialism, managed to install reasonably honest governments, balanced their budgets, and kept inflation down find that they simply cannot attract private investors. Without this investment, they cannot have sustainable growth.

If globalization has not succeeded in reducing poverty, neither has it succeeded in ensuring stability. Crises in Asia and in Latin America have threatened the economies and the stability of all developing countries. There are fears of financial contagion spreading around the world, that the collapse of one emerging market currency will mean that others fall as well. For a while, in 1997 and 1998, the Asian crisis appeared to pose a threat to the entire world economy.

Globalization and the introduction of a market economy has not produced the promised results in Russia and most of the other economies making the transition from communism to the market. These countries were told by the West that the new economic system would bring them unprecedented prosperity. Instead, it brought unprecedented poverty: in many respects, for most of the people, the market economy proved even worse than their Communist leaders had predicted. The contrast between Russia's transition, as engineered by the international economic institutions, and that of China, designed by itself, could not be greater: While in 1990 China's gross domestic product (GDP) was 60 percent that of Russia, by the end of the decade the numbers had been reversed. While Russia saw an unprecedented increase in poverty, China saw an unprecedented decrease.

The critics of globalization accuse Western countries of hypocrisy, and the critics are right. The Western countries have pushed poor countries to eliminate trade barriers, but kept up their own barriers, preventing developing countries from exporting their agricultural products and so depriving them of desperately needed export income. The United States was, of course, one of the prime culprits, and this was an issue about which I felt intensely. When I was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, I fought hard against this hypocrisy, as had my predecessors at the Council from both parties. It not only hurt the developing countries; it also cost Americans billions of dollars, both as consumers, in the higher prices they paid, and as taxpayers, to finance the huge agricultural subsidies. The struggles were, all too often, unsuccessful. Special commercial and financial interests prevailed-and when I moved over to the World Bank, I saw the consequences to the developing countries all too clearly.

But even when not guilty of hypocrisy, the West has driven the globalization agenda, ensuring that it garners a disproportionate share of the benefits, at the expense of the developing world It was not just that the more advanced industrial countries declined to open up their markets to the goods of the developing countries-for instance, keeping their quotas on a multitude of goods from textiles to sugar- while insisting that those countries open up their markets to the goods of the wealthier countries; it was not just that the more advanced industrial countries continued to subsidize agriculture, making it difficult for the developing countries to compete, while insisting that the developing countries eliminate their subsidies on industrial goods. Looking at the "terms of trade"-the prices which developed and less developed countries get for the products they produce-after the last trade agreement in 1995 (the eighth), the net effect was to lower the prices some of the poorest countries in the world received relative to what they paid for their imports. The result was that some of the poorest countries in the world were actually made worse off.

Western banks benefited from the loosening of capital market controls in Latin America and Asia, but those regions suffered when inflows of speculative hot money (money that comes into and out of a country, often overnight, often little more than betting on whether a currency is going to appreciate or depreciate) that had poured into countries suddenly reversed. The abrupt outflow of money left behind collapsed currencies and weakened banking systems. The Uruguay Round also strengthened intellectual property rights.

American and other Western drug companies could now stop drug companies in India and Brazil from "stealing" their intellectual property. But these drug companies in the developing world were making these life-saving drugs available to their citizens at a fraction of the price at which the drugs were sold by the Western drug companies. There were thus two sides to the decisions made in the Uruguay Round. Profits of the Western drug companies would go up. Advocates said this would provide them more incentive to innovate; but the increased profits from sales in the developing world were small, since few could afford the drugs, and hence the incentive effect, at best, might be limited. The other side was that thousands were effectively condemned to death, because governments and individuals in developing countries could no longer pay the high prices demanded. In the case of AIDS, the international outrage was so great that drug companies had to back down, eventually agreeing to lower their prices, to sell the drugs at cost in late 2001. But the underlying problems-the fact that the intellectual property regime established under the Uruguay Round was not balanced, that it overwhelmingly reflected the interests and perspectives of the producers, as opposed to the users, whether in developed or developing countries-remain.

For decades, the cries of the poor in Africa and in developing countries in other parts of the world have been largely unheard in the West. Those who labored in the developing countries knew something was wrong when they saw financial crises becoming more commonplace and the numbers of poor increasing. But they had no way to change the rules or to influence the international financial institutions that wrote them. Those who valued democratic processes saw how "conditionality"-the conditions that international lenders imposed in return for their assistance undermined national sovereignty. But until the protestors came along there was little hope for change and no outlets for complaint. Some of the protestors went to excesses; some of the protestors were arguing for higher protectionist barriers against the developing countries, which would have made their plight even worse. But despite these problems, it is the trade unionists, students, environmentalists-ordinary citizens-marching in the streets of Prague, Seattle, Washington, and Genoa who have put the need for reform on the agenda of the developed world.

The IMF is a public institution, established with money provided by taxpayers around the world. This is important to remember because it does not report directly to either the citizens who finance it or those whose lives it affects. Rather, it reports to the ministries of finance and the central banks of the governments of the world. They assert their control through a complicated voting arrangement based largely on the economic power of the countries at the end of World War II. There have been some minor adjustments since, but the major developed countries run the show, with only one country, the United States, having effective veto. (In this sense, it is similar to the UN, where a historical anachronism determines who holds the veto-the victorious powers of World War II-but at least there the veto power is shared among five countries.)

Over the years since its inception, the IMF has changed markedly. Founded on the belief that markets often worked badly, it now champions market supremacy with ideological fervor. Founded on the belief that there is a need for international pressure on countries to have more expansionary economic policies-such as increasing expenditures, reducing taxes, or lowering interest rates to stimulate the economy-today the IMF typically provides funds only if countries engage in policies like cutting deficits, raising taxes, or raising interest rates that lead to a contraction of the economy. Keynes would be rolling over in his grave were he to see what has happened to his child.

The most dramatic change in these institutions occurred in the 1980s, the era when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher preached free market ideology in the United States and the United Kingdom. The IMF and the World Bank became the new missionary institutions, through which these ideas were pushed on the reluctant poor countries that often badly needed their loans and grants. The ministries of finance in poor countries were willing to become converts, if necessary, to obtain the funds, though the vast majority of government officials, and, more to the point, people in these countries often remained skeptical. In the early 1980s, a purge occurred inside the World Bank, in its research department, which guided the Bank's thinking and direction. Hollis Chenery, one of America's most distinguished development economists, a professor at Harvard who had made fundamental contributions to research in the economics of development and other areas as well, had been Robert McNamara's confidant and adviser. McNamara had been appointed president of the World Bank in 1968. Touched by the poverty that he saw throughout the Third World, McNamara had redirected the Bank's effort at its elimination, and Chenery assembled a first-class group of economists from around the world to work with him. But with the changing of the guard came a new president in 1981, William Clausen, and a new chief economist, Ann Krueger, an international trade specialist, best known for her work on "rent seeking"-how special interests use tariffs and other protectionist measures to increase their incomes at the expense of others. While Chenery and his team had focused on how markets failed in developing countries and what governments could do to improve markets and reduce poverty, Krueger saw government as the problem. Free markets were the solution to the problems of developing countries. In the new ideological fervor, many of the first-rate economists that Chenery had assembled left.

Although the missions of the two institutions remained distinct, it was at this time that their activities became increasingly intertwined.

In the 1980s, the Bank went beyond just lending for projects (like roads and dams) to providing broad-based support, in the form of structural adjustment loans; but it did this only when the IMF gave its approval-and with that approval came IMF-imposed conditions on the country. The IMF was supposed to focus on crises; but developing countries were always in need of help, so the IMF became a permanent part of life in most of the developing world.

The fall of the Berlin Wall provided a new arena for the IMF: managing the transition to a market economy in the former Soviet Union and the Communist bloc countries in Europe. More recently, as the crises have gotten bigger, and even the deep coffers of the IMF seemed insufficient, the World Bank was called in to provide tens of billions of dollars of emergency support, but strictly as a junior partner, with the guidelines of the programs dictated by the IMF. In principle, there was a division of labor. The IMF was supposed to limit itself to matters of macroeconomics in dealing with a country, to the government's budget deficit, its monetary policy, its inflation, its trade deficit, its borrowing from abroad; and the World Bank was supposed to be in charge of structural issues-what the country's government spent money on, the country's financial institutions, its labor markets, its trade policies. But the IMF took a rather imperialistic view of the matter: since almost any structural issue could affect the overall performance of the economy, and hence the government's budget or the trade deficit, it viewed almost everything as falling within its domain. It often got impatient with the World Bank, where even in the years when free market ideology reigned supreme there were frequent controversies about what policies would best suit the conditions of the country. The IMF had the answers (basically, the same ones for every country), didn't see the need for all this discussion, and, while the World Bank debated what should be done, saw itself as stepping into the vacuum to provide the answers.

The two institutions could have provided countries with alternative perspectives on some of the challenges of development and transition, and in doing so they might have strengthened democratic processes. But they were both driven by the collective will of the G-7 (the governments of the seven most important advanced industrial countries (these are the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy, France, and the UK Today, the G-7 typically meets together with Russia (the G-8).The seven countries are no longer the seven largest economies in the world. Membership in the G-7, like permanent membership in the UN Security Council, is partly a matter of historical accident), and especially their finance ministers and treasury secretaries, and too often, the last thing they wanted was a lively democratic debate about alternative strategies.

A half century after its founding, it is clear that the IMF has failed in its mission. It has not done what it was supposed to do-provide funds for countries facing an economic downturn, to enable the country to restore itself to close to full employment. In spite of the fact that our understanding of economic processes has increased enormously during the last fifty years, crises around the world have been more frequent and (with the exception of the Great Depression) deeper. By some reckonings, close to a hundred countries have faced crises. Every major emerging market that liberalized its capital market has had at least one crisis. But this is not just an unfortunate streak of bad luck. Many of the policies that the IMF pushed, in particular, premature capital market liberalization, have contributed to global instability. And once a country was in crisis, IMF funds and programs not only failed to stabilize the situation but in many cases actually made matters worse, especially for the poor.

Unfortunately, we have no world government, accountable to the people of every country, to oversee the globalization process in a fashion comparable to the way national governments guided the nationalization process. Instead, we have a system that might be called global governance without global government, one in which a few institutions-the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and a few players-the finance, commerce, and trade ministries, closely linked to certain financial and commercial interests-dominate the scene, but in which many of those affected by their decisions are left almost voiceless.

These two institutions [IMF & World Bank] often confused in the public mind, present marked contrasts that underline the differences in their cultures, styles, and missions: one is devoted to eradicating poverty, one to maintaining global stability. While both have teams of economists flying into developing countries for three-week missions, the World Bank has worked hard to make sure that a substantial fraction of its staff live permanently in the country they are trying to assist; the IMF generally has only a single "resident representative," whose powers are limited. IMF programs are typically dictated from Washington, and shaped by the short missions during which its staff members pore over numbers in the finance ministries and central banks and make themselves comfortable in five-star hotels in the capitals. There is more than symbolism in this difference: one cannot come to learn about, and love, a nation unless one gets out to the countryside. One should not see unemployment as just a statistic, an economic "body count," the unintended casualties in the fight against inflation or to ensure that Western banks get repaid. The unemployed are people, with families, whose lives are affected-sometimes devastated-by the economic policies that outsiders recommend, and, in the case of the IMF, effectively impose. Modern high-tech warfare is designed to remove physical contact: dropping bombs from 50,000 feet ensures that one does not "feel" what one does. Modern economic management is similar: from one's luxury hotel, one can callously impose policies about which one would think twice if one knew the people whose lives one was destroying.

Statistics bear out what those who travel outside the capital see in the villages of Africa, Nepal, Mindanao, or Ethiopia; the gap between the poor and the rich has been growing, and even the number in absolutely poverty-living on less than a dollar a day-has increased.


In many developing-and developed-countries, governments all too often spend too much energy doing things they shouldn't do. This distracts them from what they should be doing. The problem is not so much that the government is too big, but that it is not doing the right thing. Governments, by and large, have little business running steel mills, and typically make a mess of it. (Although the most efficient steel mills in the world are those established and run by the Korean and Taiwanese governments, they are an exception.) In general, competing private enterprises can perform such functions more efficiently. This is the argument for privatization-converting state-run industries and firms into private ones. However, there are some important preconditions that have to be satisfied before privatization can contribute to an economy's growth. And the way privatization is accomplished makes a great deal of difference.

Unfortunately, the IMF and the World Bank have approached the issues from a narrow ideological perspective-privatization was to be pursued rapidly. Scorecards were kept for the countries making the transition from communism to the market: those who privatized faster were given the high marks. As a result, privatization often did not bring the benefits that were promised. The problems that arose from these failures have created antipathy to the very idea of privatization.

Perhaps the most serious concern with privatization, as it has so often been practiced, is corruption. The rhetoric of market fundamentalism asserts that privatization will reduce what economists call the "rent-seeking" activity of government officials who either skim off the profits of government enterprises or award contracts and jobs to their friends. But in contrast to what it was supposed to do, privatization has made matters so much worse that in many countries today privatization is jokingly referred to as "briberization." If a government is corrupt, there is little evidence that privatization will solve the problem. After all, the same corrupt government that mismanaged the firm will also handle the privatization. In country after country, government officials have realized that privatization meant that they no longer needed to be limited to annual profit skimming. By selling a government enterprise at below market price, they could get a significant chunk of the asset value for themselves rather than leaving it for subsequent officeholders. In effect, they could steal today much of what would have been skimmed off by future politicians. Not surprisingly, the rigged privatization process was designed to maximize the amount government ministers could appropriate for themselves, not the amount that would accrue to the government's treasury, let alone the overall efficiency of the economy. As we will see, Russia provides a devastating case study of the harm of "privatization at all costs."

Privatization advocates naively persuaded themselves these costs could be overlooked because the textbooks seemed to say that once private property rights were clearly defined, the new owners would ensure that the assets would be efficiently managed. Thus the situation would improve in the long term even if it was ugly in the short term. They failed to realize that without the appropriate legal structures and market institutions, the new owners might have an incentive to strip assets rather than use them as a basis for expanding industry. As a result, in Russia, and many other countries, privatization failed to be as effective a force for growth as it might have been. Indeed, sometimes it was associated with decline and proved to be a powerful force for undermining confidence in democratic and market institutions.


Liberalization-the removal of government interference in financial markets, capital markets, and of barriers to trade has many dimensions. Today, even the IMF agrees that it has pushed that agenda too far-that liberalizing capital and financial markets contributed to the global financial crises of the 1990s and can wreak havoc on a small emerging country.

The fact that trade liberalization all too often fails to live up to its promise-but instead simply leads to more unemployment-is why it provokes strong opposition. But the hypocrisy of those pushing for trade liberalization-and the way they have pushed it-has no doubt reinforced hostility to trade liberalization. The Western countries pushed trade liberalization for the products that they exported, but at the same time continued to protect those sectors in which competition from developing countries might have threatened their economies.

Today, the emerging markets are not forced open under the threat of the use of military might, but through economic power, through the threat of sanctions or the withholding of needed assistance in a time of crisis. While the World Trade Organization was the forum within which international trade agreements were negotiated, U.S. trade negotiators and the IMF have often insisted on going further, accelerating the pace of trade liberalization. The IMF insists on this faster pace of liberalization as a condition for assistance-and countries facing a crisis feel they have no choice but to accede to the Fund's demands.

Matters are perhaps worse still when the United States acts unilaterally rather than behind the cloak of the WTO. The U.S. Trade Representative or the Department of Commerce, often prodded by special interests within the United States, brings an accusation against a foreign country; there is then a review process-involving only the U.S. government-with a decision made by the United States, after which sanctions are brought against the offending country. The United States sets itself up as prosecutor, judge, and jury. There is a quasijudicial process, but the cards are stacked: both the rules and the judges favor a finding of guilty. When this arsenal is brought against other industrial countries, Europe and Japan, they have the resources to defend themselves; when it comes to the developing countries, even large ones like India and China, it is an unfair match. The ill will that results is far out of proportion to any possible gain for the United States. The process itself does little to reinforce confidence in a just international trading system.

Globalization and Its Discontents

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