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21 May 2003

World Bank, explained

The IMF, the World Bank and the WTO explained, by Larry Elliott of the Guardian. Greatly edited version: "The Bretton Woods institutions were the economic arm of the new world order designed to ensure there was no repetition of the Great Depression. . . But over the years, the IMF changed. . . The IMF (and the World Bank) [since the 1980s] reflected the economic orthodoxy, championing privatisation, liberalisation and tough anti-inflation strategies when they became fashionable in the west. . . [A better programme for today] would involve the Bretton Woods recognising that in a deflationary world there is a need to return to their original pro-growth mandate. . . . " "The WTO is a different beast. Created in 1995, it has two safeguards to protect the interests of smaller countries: a one-member, one-vote decision-making structure and an arbitration system . . . Although many in the US strongly oppose the neo-conservative agenda, there are two problems for those seeking change. The first is that the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO are largely friendless bodies. . . [The other is that . . .] the one arena where the EU flexes its muscles is the WTO, but only to put European corporate demands on the global agenda. . . Something better would include an open and meritocratic system for the top jobs at the World Bank, IMF and WTO, rather than the unseemly horse-trading that currently takes place. It would include stopping the IMF and the Bank colonising the territory of other UN organisations. And it would involve the other big shareholders - the Europeans - acting in concert to put pressure on Washington."

"The truth is that you can't defend what these institutions currently are", says Kevin Watkins of Oxfam, "but they were part of a Keynesian political project, and it is up to the left to make them into something better."

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