Bank Shot

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Interesting Sebastian Mallaby piece in Foreign Policy on the relationship between NGOs and the World Bank. It's a familiar and (on face) plausible enough story (or, rather, stories): Well-intentioned Western activists become convinced that some development project or another is exploitative, or has some other set of drawbacks, derailing improvements that would nevertheless, on net, benefit the people on the ground.

I don't know enough about the particular projects Mallaby discusses to say anything useful about whether that interpretation is on point in the instance. But Mallaby certainly does seem to to-be-sure away plenty of serious criticism of government-to-government development aid. And one is not reassured that Mallaby appreciates that critique by sentences like:

NGOs purport to hold the World Bank accountable, yet the bank is answerable to the governments who are its shareholders

So they are. But subtract the assumption that accountability to government stands as a good proxy for accountability to domestic populations—a sound bit of arithmetic considering that plenty of underdeveloped countries remain underdeveloped precisely because of bad governance—and this starts to seem a touch sanguine. It is, in any event, a strange thing to say just before launching into a criticism of attempts by those government "shareholders"(spurred by NGOs) to hold the bank to account. That accountability to governments, one supposes, is not meant to be tainted by citizens groups' attempts to influence their representatives.

Which, in the end, is why the piece ends up ringing oddly. Mallaby is distressed that developing world governments are turning to the private market for loans, since these lack the kind of human rights and environmental conditions that come with funds from a more politically-influenced organization like the World Bank. And he's equally distressed when the World Bank turns out to be influenced by politics. In any event, worth reading, but with the salt shaker at the ready.

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