The World Bank’s Bankrupt Policy

Masses of humanity overrunning neighboring borders is not the kind of thing I had in mind when [intlink id=”2009″ type=”post”]I said[/intlink] we should focus on supporting a growing population. My context was the justification of automation in agriculture with the need to feed a growing population. I was referring to an article in which automation had already been justified by the profit motive.  I argued that corporate profitability and prosperity don’t mix. Putting the population first in this case would mean employing more people. If this makes the agriculture industry unprofitable, it’s the industry that should be considered expendable—not the workers.

The profit motive is more expensive in the long run. The refugee crisis in Syria began at least fifty years ago with bad agricultural policy. Desertification of the Syrian Steppe began in 1958 when the former Bedouin commons were opened up to unrestricted grazing and the eastern part of the steppe was put under intensive agriculture using underground irrigation. The nomads and farmers that were displaced by these practices were then forced to eek out a living in the cities, which explains why the protests began in provincial towns rather than in Damascus or Aleppo. ((Serra, Gianluca, Overgrazing and Desertification in the Syrian Steppe Are the Root Causes of War. Ecologist, June 5, 2015. Available: http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2871076/overgrazing_and_desertification_in_the_syrian_steppe_are_the_root_causes_of_war.html))

Regardless of the cause, at this point the U.S. is obliged to do its part for Syrian refugees. But going forward we need policies that are designed to help people where they live. It’s true that we have no control over the agricultural policies of countries like Syria which were influenced by the Soviet Union. However in the West the World Bank’s policies have been just as damaging.

Aside from rampant corruption, (I moved the discussion of Richard Behar’s Forbes article to the end this post.) one of the main characteristics of the World Bank’s Green Revolution, from 1970 to 1990, was the removal of poor farmers from their land. As in Syria, these farmers either migrated to the cities or moved to areas with poorer soils. It is estimated that with the added pressure of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, up to a third of the world’s population has been dragged into a cycle of poverty and hunger. Unbelievably, according to its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank plans to resume its focus on agriculture while ignoring the lessons of history. The basis of its agenda remains the transfer of resources away from peasants and toward large capitalist firms. ((Kersson, Tanya, Land and Resource Grabs: the World Bank’s Long War on Peasants. Global Research, April 24, 2015. Available: http://www.globalresearch.ca/land-and-resource-grabs-the-world-banks-long-war-on-peasants/5444917))

If the well-being of the global population is a priority, it makes no sense to uproot people and destroy working ecosystems. Instead, our policies should have the goal of allowing people to thrive where they are. This would benefit the environment and also decrease the flow of refugees. But if we want to accomplish altruistic goals, they have to actually be our focus.

Today a handful of people believe that wealth and power entitle them to rule the world. Their decisions are profit driven, but in order to sell them to the public they then tack on altruistic goals, like feeding the world, spreading democracy, or enforcing peace. This is not policy—this is sleight of hand. It’s no wonder nothing gets done.

Dismantle the World Bank. Rein in the corporations.  If you’re still not convinced please read Richach Behar’s article in Forbes.  A summary follows:

According to a 2012 Forbes article ((Behar, Richard, World Bank Spins Out of Control: Corruption, Dysfunction Await New President. Forbes, June 27, 2012. Available: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2012/0716/feature-world-bank-robert-zoellick-too-big-to-fail.html)) things were pretty bad when Dr. Jim Yong Kim took over as president. Richard Behar’s assessment at that time was that the system needs a complete overhaul. Since that article was written things have gone from bad to worse. ((Lakhani, Nina, World Bank’s Ethics Under Scrutiny after Honduras Loan Investigation. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/jan/13/world-bank-ethics-scrutiny-honduras-loan-investigation))

Behar argued that the World Bank’s problems are philosophical, structural, and cultural. Examples of the philosophical problem include a failure to articulate a vision for the World Bank’s role in the 21st century, and the handling of countries like China which no one wants to offend, with the result that China’s abuses are tolerated.

The cultural problem refers to a culture of fear—fear of loss of reputation for the Bank, fear of being the target of a witch hunt for whistle-blowers.

The most obvious structural fault would be the huge annual budget combined with a lack of oversight by the governments that provide the funds, leading to corruption at all levels.

In my opinion, you would also have to include a corporate way of thinking that convinced reasonable people this setup would work in the first place. Frankly it’s difficult to believe that the World Bank’s negative outcomes could be caused by a bunch of hapless people. The bank’s destructive tendencies are too consistent. 

 

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