Disciplining the Irresponsible State

International actors such as the World Bank and the IMF traditionally presented themselves as apolitical. Their concentration was fixated firmly on countries’ economic policies and development. The growing emphasis placed on “good governance” starting in the 1990s shifted their attention to themes of sovereignty. Namely, what political institutions and practices are required to effectively introduce and maintain economic strategies for enhancing marketization? However, this concern with sovereignty extended beyond guiding contemporary governance and governments, often in quite authoritarian directions. It also became a regulatory, and if need be coercive, sovereign force for spreading and preserving capitalism.

Crucially, the rise of “good governance” ideals were borne out of a sovereign power struggle for hegemony between international financial institutions and other potential knowledge sources for guiding development. In particular, the failure of neoliberal reforms to provide for mass welfare, despite impressive gains in economic growth, challenged the authority of the global organizations most associated with these reforms. The previously discussed success of East Asian countries exemplified this broader questioning of these organizations’ legitimacy. According to Kapur and Webb (2000: 18), “For the IFIs, the new mandate is a boost to their importance, but one fraught with peril ... The new mission arrived at a moment when growing doubts regarding the purpose and effectiveness of the IFIs seemed to threaten their funding, and even their continued existence.” During the 1980s the World Bank emerged as the dominant actor in “aid regimes” using its power as a means for “firmly tying ongoing project aid to policy reforms” (Gibbon, 1993: 40).

This re-establishing of their sovereignty also entailed an expansion of their political power. As Hyden (2008: 267) notes “by channeling direct budget support to partner governments the DPs [development partners] are forced to think about governance as an integral part of their modus operandi.” For creditor countries, it meant that their development partners could progressively dictate what they could and could not do politically. Democratic self-determination shifted increasingly upward, as IFIs maintained the right to force donor countries to adopt neoliberalism economically and politically. Institutionally, while the World Bank sustained its “non-political” mandate, practically it “accepted the role of secretariat for the consultative meetings of various donor consortia, which stipulated what political conditions would need to be met.” In doing so, “this placed the Bank in the strategic position of being able to convey political conditions set by the respective consortia for the recipient countries concerned, and subsequently to monitor their implementation, without directly compromising its own non-political mandate” (Doornbos, 2003: 8).

Through this greater political authority, IFIs were able to make authoritarian demands on creditor nations. Capitalist “good governance” was transformed from a strong suggestion to a dictatorial condition for receiving loans and being included in the global marketplace. Therefore, “the Bank does not just lend money and produce ideas: it packages the ideas and the money together,” combining lending with conditionality (Gilbert et al., 1999: F610). These new governance conditions not coincidentally coincided with:

[T]he substantial decrease of North-South redistribution by means of official development funding. It coincided as well with the international compliance of the left with the position that free markets are the primary tool for the development of what were once known as the Second and Third Worlds. (Demmers et al., 2004: 1)

Accordingly, the more neoliberalism was depoliticized economically, the greater the political authority - and authoritarianism - of IFIs was legitimized. This shift “impacted not only transitional states in East Central Europe but also more generally in the way democracy promotion was being conceptualized and instituted: liberal market democracy became the end point being worked toward” (Hobson and Kurki, 2012: 2). Politically, it reversed the traditional relation of “politics-policy” (whereby political decisions determined policies) into one of “policy- politics.” This reflected what Leftwich (1994: 364) calls a “technicist fallacy” of neoliberals, where development issues can be solved by an “administrative or managerial fix.” The power of IFIs to not only make but also enforce these “good governance” conditions played into this transformation of politics as primarily one of management and conformity to predetermined neoliberal mandates.

The extended sovereignty of these international organizations, furthermore, shifted the burden of control from the “self-disciplining” state to directly and indirectly “disciplining” global actors. As observed, this upward drift of governance from the national to the trans-national was fundamentally non-democratic and focused on empowering client governments to protect their overriding capitalist agenda. Indeed “the [World] Bank’s understanding of good governance continues to reflect a concern over the effectiveness of the state rather than the equity of the economic system and the legitimacy of the power structure” (Santiso, 2001: 4). Wood (1997: 553), thus, characterizes globalization as “another step in the geographical extension of economic rationality and its emancipation from political jurisdiction.”

Additionally, IFIs could use their influence to bypass governments by shaping the subjectivities and social rationalities of populations. Discussing the case of Cambodia, Springer (2010: 931) observes that:

As disciplinary rationalities, strategies, technologies, and techniques coagulate under neoliberal subjectivation in contemporary Cambodian society through the proliferation of particular discursive formations like good governance, the structural inequalities of capital are increasingly misrecognized. This constitutes symbolic violence, which is wielded precisely inasmuch as one does not perceive it as such.

The increasing role of international organizations for “governing” neoliberalism is justified by, and contributes to, a broader global capitalist fantasy of authoritarian “good governance.” Part of the “common sense rhetoric of good governance” (Springer, 2010) is the right and requirement of IFIs to coercively police “irresponsible” states for their own good as well as the preservation of the international financial order itself.

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