Home > Editorial, Politics > The self-hating hydra: the five heads of political economic ideology

The self-hating hydra: the five heads of political economic ideology

The ideological, cultural, and class struggles associated with socio-political power plays are not easily deconstructed into identifiable component camps. In fact, an exact definition of ideological camps is impossible though observers and participants can do their best to separate mutable and sometimes confused groups into named ideologies. Such imperfect definitions help us understand underlying themes and philosophies behind regional and global affairs. They help us see trends and the intent that lies behind them.

In this essay, I will depend on a categorisation of global ideologies forwarded by Patrick Bond in order to classify the general intent of global movements interested in (re)defining political economy. Bond relies on five broad ideologies to identify the various political forces at play. They are, the Washington Consensus, Post-Washington Consensus, Resurgent Right Wing, Global Justice Movements, and Third World Nationalism (Bond 2003). My goal is to at least partially clarify the dynamics behind political economic theories and movements. This should help us understand why they came about, what they wish to achieve, and how they mean to achieve it.

Before moving on to the specific categories, we should realise that every one of them exists in relation to corporate globalisation; either as supporter, reformer, rebuilder, or rejecter.

Washington Consensus

The Washington Consensus is a “hegemonic ideology that shaped economic policy parameters and options […] since the early 1980s. (Bond 2002:10)” It is a neo-liberal brand of capitalism that has America-centric economic policies. It promotes the current strain of corporate globalisation under which the greatest beneficiaries are firms with headquarters in the US (Bond 2003:97).

Neo-liberalism, meanwhile, has its roots in 19th century laissez-faire theories that demand the following:
• Fiscal austerity, resulting in restrictions on social spending (Bond 2002:10)
• Full cost-recovery, which includes potentially unaffordable user fees applied to even the most essential services to human life (Bond 2002:10)
• Uncritical push for privatisation and commodification (Harvey 2003:75)
• Free trade and free movement of capital (Dumenil & Levi 2003:5)
• Deregulation (Kanbur 2002:5)
• Low inflation even at cost to employment
• Emphasis on export-orientation (Bond 2002:11)

Under neo-liberalism, there exists a conflict of “markets versus state” (Heshmati 2003:5) in which, as insightfully mentioned by John S. Saul, it is believed that the impoverished states have failed the system, not the other way around (Saul 2003:231). This is because supporters of the Washington Consensus often imply benevolence on the part of neo-liberalism that will lead to an equal improvement of standards for poor and rich alike (Milanovic 2003:3-4). Conversely, free market fundamentalism has been party to a period of international economic instability that has given birth to resistance. The Washington Consensus’ hegemony is being eroded by the other four heads of world polity.

Post-Washington Consensus

During the reign of the Washington Consensus, “the power and income of the upper fractions of ruling classes have been restored after a period of decline,” (Dumenil & Levi 2003:2) leading to global resistance that, coupled with persistent economic instability, incited an attempt at reform from within. The term Post-Washington Consensus was introduced by US economist Joseph Stiglitz who, along with other supporters, pushed for the following:
• State regulatory intervention in the event of market failure (Bond 2002:106)
• Loosely defined agenda of sustainable and social development (Bond 2003:98)
• Democratisation of international financial institutions (Bond 2002:132)
• Equitable labour market principles (Heshmati 2003:4)
• Careful liberalisation (Heshmati 2003:4)

Such an attempt at reform undermined the traditional neo-liberal belief in self-correcting markets and unfettered liberalisation as a means to growth (Bond 2002:106). However, it should be realised that the ideology did not fundamentally break with neo-liberalism, nor did it oppose capitalism. The Post-Washington Consensus never posed a threat to the underlying capitalist system nor did it question US dominance. The ideology still promoted privatisation and commodification such as its followers’ promotion of water privatisation (Bond 2002:97-98). In effect, the Post-Washington Consensus attempted to maintain and legitimise the status quo.

In 1999 Stiglitz was fired from the World Bank for his outspoken position in favour of reforming the Bretton Woods institutions. This and the failure to take serious steps toward reform suggest that the Post-Washington Consensus is not a viable alternative to the current ideology. Furthermore, it is doubtful that such shallow changes to the system, in effect supporting the status quo, would be acceptable to the other ideologies.

Resurgent Right Wing

The Resurgent Right Wing’s opposition to the Washington Consensus stems from its opposition to many neo-liberal mandates. This ideology has its source in political conservatism and seeks to establish an alternative that is still friendly to corporate interest. It does not question the capitalist system of accumulation – its slings are aimed at globalisation (Milanovic 2003:5).

The Resurgent Right demands heightened protectionism, such as increased tariffs; is against supra-national interventionism such as the Bretton Woods structural adjustments (Bond 2003:97); supports the downsizing of Bretton Woods institutions (Bond 2003:98); and seeks to roll back globalisation through isolationist and nationalist tendencies (Milanovic 2003:5). In Europe especially, the Resurgent Right is accompanied by feelings of xenophobia. This stems from fear of cultural and racial dilution, and job loss (Milanovic 2003:5).

In America, the Resurgent Right has strong ties to the military-industrial complex, both having gained in strength since the terrorist attacks on 11 Sep 2001. The increased strength of the far right was welcomed by Bush and his big business allies (Bond 2002:107).

Global Justice Movements

Firstly, it should be understood that the Global Justice Movements are composed of numerous political groups, so they lack the level of cohesion present in the Washington Consensus. Their general intent is to topple the status quo. They are predominantly left-wing groups of what may seem divergent people who have become especially active in reaction to the rising power of corporate globalisation. The component groups of the Global Justice Movements are increasingly pooling their efforts in order to de-link from corporate globalisation. In this effort, they are characterised by protests and actions against privatisation, unemployment, social service cuts, the shrinking of the public sphere, the increasing rich-poor gap, and structural adjustment programs, among others (Waterman 2003:3-4).

Most within the Global Justice Movements realise that the situation has not substantially improved since their initial protests began. Their understanding is that mimed or implemented reforms by proponents of the Washington Consensus are nothing more than superficial adjustments to an underlying system that continues to maintain an unacceptable power balance (Bond 2002:129-130).

Though it is difficult to identify the exact methods of such a fractured group, it is possible to pin down some general goals. They seek to ‘disempower’ international financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization (Bond 2002:129), deglobalise capital (Bond 2002:130), decommodify basic goods and services necessary for survival (Bond 2002:130), eliminate the Third World’s crippling debt in support of a development friendly alternative (Bond 2002:131), reject intellectual patents on otherwise unaffordable products essential to human life (Bond 2002:131), state regulation of ‘corporate operations’ (Starr & Adams 2003:20), and the democratisation of financial institutions (Starr & Adams 2003:20).

Waterman makes a salient observation: “It is clear, from yet another appellation – the ‘anti-capitalist movement’ – that this ‘movement of movements’ is as much an aspiration as an actuality, as much a becoming as a being.” (Waterman 2003:5)

Third World Nationalism

Third World Nationalism can relate to the Global Justice Movements in its shared attempt to undo the status quo in order for their countries to have a more even footing in the international political economic matrix. In the 1970s, this movement called for a new international order – this hard-line approach has softened to reform and realignment of international institutions in favour of Third World nations. Such a change in attitude shows an underlying acceptance of capitalism in the global marketplace (Bond 2003:105).

Third World Nationalists want some level of debt forgiveness (Saul 2003:233), for the North to follow the same international rules as the South (Saul 2003:234), use of capital controls to reduce volatility (Bond 2002:107), the preference of national funding over foreign funding in order to roll back economic imperialism (Bond 2002:132), the democratisation of international financial institutions (Bond 2002:132), increased international regulation of market structures (Bond 2003:105), and an international effort on stable development investments (Bond 2003:105).

Conclusion

Though there is an attempt at holistic inclusion of ideologies by use of the five categories, the categories can be likened to a leaky boat. There is much fractious behaviour and it can be difficult to place a group or individual within any one category. This is especially true of those opposed to the Washington Consensus since they tend to be defined more by the nature of their opposition rather than a clearly defined alternative system.

It is possible that, by naming and defining movements, opposition authors have a conscious or subconscious goal of unifying fractious parties in order to present a cohesive alternative to the status quo. Such definitions do not only serve to reveal trends useful to academics; they can also help participants recognise the existence of common goals between once apparently divergent groups and thus further solidarity in the opposition.

Sources

Bond, Patrick. Against Global Apartheid. Zed Books Ltd. 2003.

Bond, Patrick. Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice. November 2002.

Dumenil, Gerard & Levy, Dominique. Neoliberal Dynamics – Imperial Dynamics. 2004.

Harvey, David. “The ‘New’ Imperialism: Accumulation by Dusoissession.” The New Imperial Challenge. Eds. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys. Merlin Press. 2003.

Heshmati, Almas. The Relationship Between Income Inequality and Globalization. April 2003.

Kanbur, Ravi. Conceptual Challenges in Poverty and Inequality: One Development Economist’s Perspective. April 2002.

Milanovic, Branco. The Two Faces of Globalization: Against Globalization As We Know It. 2003.

Saul, John S. “Globalization, Imperialism, Development: False Binaries and Radical Resolutions.” The New Imperial Challenge. Eds. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys. Merlin Press. 2003.

Starr, Amory & Adams, Jason. “Anti-globalization: The Global Fight for Local Autonomy.” New Political Science. Volume 25, Number 1. Carfax Publishing. 2003.

Waterman, Peter. The World Social Forum and the Global Justice Solidarity Movement: A Backgrounder. 2003.

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