‘Paradigm found: In Search for the Washington Consensus’

Panizza, Francisco E. (2008) ‘Paradigm found: In Search for the Washington Consensus’ (manuscript)

A Summary 

In a Nutshell

The Washington Consensus was not (initially) an overarching doctrine of how a country should manage its economic nor political life. Rather it was a set of specific recommendations on how to tackle large deficits and hyperinflation. However it became part of the neoliberal “doctrine” and here it was expanded upon to reflect the beliefs of the liberals in markets. This doctrine became the dominant one on LA largely in response to crisis and as a means of turning away from what had come before. As ISI came to the end of its usefulness, the authoritarian regimes that were in power began to move away from the structuralist model but it was too late to prevent crisis. The crises in part lead to the downfall of those military regimes, but the heterodox solutions that the new democracies introduced only served (eventually) to aggravate the situation. The neoliberal model was pursued by LA governments in response to these constant failures. As such, Panizza is arguing that the reforms proposed by the Washington Consensus were not merely imposed upon LA due to their weak governments, nor because of bullying tactics from the IFIs (although he concedes their influence was great), but rather they were chosen as a rational response to crisis. 

What was the Washington Consensus?

  • Neoliberalism and the WC are now thought to go hand in hand. But Panizza shows that the former is a much wider concept.
  • WC was a list of policy prescriptions outlined by John Williamson  (JW) in Latin American Adjustment: How much has happened? that embodied the thinking of the economists of the time (esp. in USA). There were 10 main prescriptions:
  1. Fiscal Discipline
  2. Redirect public spending toward health/education/infrastructure i.e. that offer high economic returns and can improve income distribution
  3. Tax reform (broaden base, and cut marginal rates)
  4. Interest rate liberalization
  5. Competitive exchange rate
  6. Trade liberalization
  7. Liberalisation of FDI
  8. Privatisation
  9. Deregulation (barriers to entry)
  10. Secure property rights
  • The key for development was to emulate the market-oriented policies of the developed economies, and the evidence for this was the growth of new Asia.
  • It was a plan for stabilisation not necessarily a plan for long term growth management. Critically it does not distinguish between the best form of capitalism model; Anglo-Saxon, EU social market, Japanese corporate capitalism. It makes no claims about markets and trade in terms of welfare (JW later said the proposals should be supplemented with a PRS). It does not give “blind faith in markets” centre stage (JW).
  • Some prescriptions were very precise (deficit of no more than 2% /  Privatisation), some were e very vague (reduce tariffs to between 10 -20% in 5-10 years). 
  • Neoliberalism (NL)on the other hand is not just about the economy. It is a social, moral and political discourse. Based on British liberalism: freedom to pursue rational self-interest and competition  as main source of innovation and growth. 
  • WC was a set of codified policy agendas, BUT it had sufficient “surplus of meaning” that it could be re-interpreted, as it was so but the NLs. 

ISI

  • NL gained it hegemonic position due to its contrast with the directed economics of the ISI period.
  • ISI was born in ECLAC in the “structuralist economic doctrines” that said that developing nations had to travel a different path of development to the already developed economies, as their infant industries had no protection from competition unlike those of the developed world when they were developing. If industry was not protected they would be condemned to being agro exporters and resource providers (comparatively cheaper than industrial goods produced by the core).
  • Used currency overvaluation and tariffs to spur on home industry. Deficits and inflation were accepted consequences.
  • The state was the gatekeeper of the national interest (protect from threat of competition).
  • ISI had broad social base (Middle class in the large civil service, urban workers with higher wages, industrialists, elites who could be rewarded with industrial patronage by the state) although there were losers (peasant farmers, consumers).
  • But sectoral/individual gains began to become built-in prerogatives. This was aggravated in 60s and 70s when growth slowed, fiscal crises abounded, and inflation shot up. The result was the authoritarian attempt to dismantle ISI 

Dismantling ISI

  • On the left dependency theory claimed that LA should cut itself off from the market as being connected could only ever keep it underdeveloped due to the chain of exploitation starting in the core and spreading to the periphery.
  • On the right, free market ideas gained traction as it became ever more costly to mediate the problems caused by ISI. Monetarism (later to be called NL) was part of a narrow economic debate on how to solve bop and inflation problems. Inflation was a monetary problem caused by deficit and overexpansion of credit. This contrast with structuralist view that inflation was reversible using structural reforms to bring more people in the economy thus expanding the industrial base.
  • There was an overlapping political debate about spending and distribution. Monetarists wanted austerity, but sturcturalists said austerity caused recessions. 
  • 60s-80s no one narrative could dominate, rather there was a complex process of change. Elements of ISI were dismantled, or deepened depending on the country specific political/economic realities. Change was influenced by many factors including availability of financial resources to fund ISI (oil rents etc.) as well as political factors (how the government/elites dealt with popular protest etc.).
  • Chile was one of the first to dismantle ISI under Pinochet. This was in part a political move – the technocratic policies of monetarism excluded the working classes, and prevented the distributive struggles that were a breeding ground for socialism and the left in general. 
  • Internal contradictions in the military regimes of LA in the period prevented them from founding a true new political and economic order. 
  • Dismantling was uneven in the region:
  • e.g. Arg: rapid reduction of tariffs decimated local industry (weakening the Peronist working class – a benefit for the military). Tariffs still very high relative to the rest of the world. State reform was very limited and fiscal austerity was abandoned in the late 70s. In 80s recession tax revenue was eroded and resulted in large deficits as inflation reached 310% in 1983 (last year of military rule)
  • In Brazil, Mexico and Peru the 70s and 80s saw a deepening of state-led model. E.g. brazil had growth of 7.4% and industry was growing with low inflation.
  • E.g. Same for Mexico but it had a tight control over public spending. However with the rise of Echeverria (70-76) public spending was increased and deficit funded by borrowing. The increased borrowing and deficit and eventual capital flight lead to devaluation and financial crisis when external funding dried up in late 70s. Debt crisis of 1982! 
  • The 1982 crisis represented a watershed. Economic policy options narrowed and there was a paradigm shift that unshed in the hegemony of free market economics.

 Neoliberal Hegemony

  • The dominant ideas of IS had become discredited and the crisis weakened the elite’s ability to maintain the status quo (Olson). There was a new possibility of change (although direction was still unclear). NL did not become totally dominant until the late 80s.
  • Ideological shift was part of worldwide pattern following end of post war growth period, inflation and recession that lead to focus on the UK-US laissez-faire model. Additionally forces of globalization were become unstoppably strong. But this is not enough for Panizza to explain how NL became part of LA.
  • NL reforms were chosen by democratic states (except in Chile). So pressure from IMF etc. (although great) and worldwide trends, are not sufficient to explain why they were adopted in LA.

 

  • NL was part of the maturing of democracy in the region. When democracy was nascent in LA, liberal reforms were associated with the military regimes. Public debate about democracy focused on human rights etc. not on economics. So with the first elected presidents we do not see the introduction of NL reforms. Rather, reforms were heterodox
  • e.g. Peru. President Terry had tried liberal reforms (80-85) but there was much resistance. His successor Alan Garcia (85-90) returned to state led heterodoxy e.g. price freezes, wage increases, more spending financed by reduction in debt servicing. The result was hyperinflation.
  • e.g. Bolivia went democratic in 1982 with Siles Suazo at the head. He also used heterodox methods and they too failed to combat inflation. His successor Estenssoro then introduced a radical free market reform package.
  • In general the Heterodox solutions caused hyperinflation which obliterated livelihoods and jobs. There was a concomitant breakdown in social order and thus political order. The state could no longer regulate social relations and there were mass protests.

 

  • It was now a question of assigning responsibility for the crises. The problem was both old and new. New as it represented problems specific to the 80s (debt crisis, oil shocks etc.) and old as it was the result of deeper long term problems rooted in ISI. However, it was now argued by free-market adherents that the 80s crisis could not be overcome simply by fiscal adjustment packages and so the WC became a much wider NL economic and political reform agenda. There would have to be a wholesale reform of the relationship between citizen and state 
  • Alfonsin in Arg having implemented heterodox packages now turned around and sought to liberalise. It was too late though to stabilize the economy, and the political outsider Menem came to the fore and implemented wide ranging reforms [see Grindle from EH451]
  • Collor came to power in brazil on a similar mandate.
  • Mexico did not suffer such a huge turnaround – rather reform was more gradual
  • So NL’s rise was founded in the failure of the new democratic administrations in the 80s to deliver a better life and thus a change occurred in the relationship between democracy and free-market economics (as it was previously associated with military dictatorships as being the only governments powerful enough to force through such reforms). NL offered d a clear diagnosis and prescription. “In this new political context economic liberalism’s mistrust of the state and ultimately of politics, resonated with popular disillusionment with failed promises of a better life under democracy”.
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