The World Bank – nannying the developing world

Russell McCarthy

Topics Politics

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Yesterday, a World Bank report stated that risky behaviour such as smoking, drinking, drug use, unhealthy eating and unprotected sex were all on the rise in the developing world. But never fear, the report, titled Risking Your Health: Causes, Consequences, and Interventions to Prevent Risky Behaviours, assures us that ‘policy interventions can turn the tide’. Apart from the more complex issue of unprotected sex, some might see the increase of the aforementioned vices in the developing world as a sign of increasing prosperity, with people having more disposable income and free time to spend doing what they enjoy. The killjoys at the World Bank see things differently.

According to Damien de Walque, a senior economist at the World Bank, ‘the health consequences and monetary costs of risky behaviours to individuals, their families, and society as a whole are staggering and justify public interventions’. The report advises the governments of poor countries to implement a similar mix of puritanical bans and nudging policies as we have had imposed on us in the West in order to set their apparently gormless citizens on the right path.

As patronising as all this is, surely a little advice can’t do much harm? After all, countries are free to tell the World Bank to get lost. Well, not quite. The World Bank has always been a means of the West exerting influence, both economic and political, on poor countries; it has never been simply an impartial money lender. In theory, the World Bank represents a partnership of over 180 nations, but in practice this has never been the case. In fact, every one of the bank’s presidents since its foundation in 1944 has been an American.

The bank is notorious for its conditional loans: when a country comes looking for money they are given a list of policies they must implement to have their loan approved. In recent years, these have included forcing the introduction of school fees in Ghana, making Tanzania privatise its water system and withholding $100million from Ecuador after the country had the cheek to increase spending on education and health. It is difficult to imagine that the sententious list of interventions proffered in yesterday’s 204-page report will remain mere advice for long.

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Topics Politics


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