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Academic Symposium G8 2000
New Directions in Global Governance? G8's Okinawa Summit

19 - 20 July, 200, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan

Developmental Ideas in the Group of Seven and the International Monetary Fund:
A Change in Consensus?

Sebastièn Dallaire

Many observers believe that over the last decade, particularly in the wake of the Asian Crisis, a marked shift was noticed in the international community's vision of development. The so-called "Washington Consensus" (Williamson 1990), characterised by a strong belief that market-friendly structural adjustment policies were the only viable path to long term development, has supposedly been replaced by a more socially oriented approach, one which does not separate economics from political and social needs. This paper argues that while a change in the international development discourse has indeed taken place, the core of the previous "consensus" remained the same. International economic fora increasingly discuss social issues and political problems involved in development, but the economic beliefs remains quite identical. Effectively, liberalisation is still the key to sustainable growth according to international economic institutions, while internal adjustments to international pressures remain the only way out of poverty. The rationale behind this reasoning is that the external environment is fundamentally "good" and countries must learn to turn it to their advantage. This conclusion should obviously not be applied to every international institutions, since the United Nations and its multiple agencies promote a totally different view of international development (Thérien and Dallaire 1999). However, the dominant discourse right now is certainly embodied by the Bretton Woods' institutions, which promote this vision, not the United Nations' institutions (Thérien 1999, 725).

In order to demonstrate this hypothesis, this paper will look at the discourse and policies of the G7 and the International Monetary Fund over the last twenty years. These two institutions are two of the most influent actors in the international development debate and clearly promote the ‘Bretton Woods consensus.' A look at the IMF's discourse and policies is also a welcome addition to the study of the G7 discourse. Effectively, one can hardly look at the actual international efforts of the G7 in itself because it lacks any permanent institutions to implement particular policies. One then has to look at either each member countries' policies, or at some other international institutions which represent the interests of the G7 countries, like the IMF. Given the heavy influence of G7 countries on the Fund's decisions, any commitment taken at the Summit level should be reflected in the discourse and policies of the Fund.

Some methodological considerations

Discourse analysis is not a popular approach in the field of International relations or international political economy, mainly due to the predominance of a strong positivist core in the discipline, particularly in the United States. Because discourse relates to ideas, not hard facts, most scholars have neglected it. However, much recent research in these two fields has pointed to the importance of ideas in international politics. This body of research comes from diverse perspectives, emanating from either liberal institutionalism (Goldstein and Keohane 1993; Keohane 1985), social constructivism (Ruggie 1998; Wendt 1992; 1999), critical theory (George 1994), post-modernism (Ashley and Walker 1990; Der Derian and Shapiro 1989), the grasmcian perspective (Cox 1987; Gill 1993) or diverse feminist approaches (Peterson 1992; Tickner 1992). Leaving aside the enormous differences between each of these contending approaches to the study of IR, they all point to a renewed interest in the importance of ideas in international politics.

From a more traditional standpoint, "international regimes" theory was a first step towards the inclusion of ideas in IR theorising. Regimes were defined as a set of "implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules and decision making procedures around which actors' expectations converge in a given area of international relations (Krasner 1983, 2). Ideational factors are certainly present in this definition considering the importance given to principles and norms. However, regime analysts have fallen short of really taking advantage of the possible inclusion of ideas within IR theorising by keeping a strong positivist epistemology which tends to overlook ideational factors which cannot be measured (Kratochwil and Ruggie 1986).

In order to avoid this problem, this paper will instead use a more social contructivist approach. Although social constructivist theorists can also be faulted for keeping a positivist framework for their analyses because of their adherence to a Lakatosian vision of social science which emphasises the possibility and even necessity of progress, constructivism overcomes the limitations of regime theory when one tries to study international discursive changes. It does overcome this limitation by allowing research to go beyond mere facts and look at ideas in themselves. Ideas can have an existence of their own, and they can studied without looking at their concrete manifestations in policies. Accordingly, institutions can play an important role in the creation and promotion of particular world-views and ideas at the international level by acting as socialising and legitimating entities (Finnemore 1996; Kratochwil and Ruggie 1986). As such, the discourse of the G7 and the IMF will be analysed in this paper in order to see how these two institutions have changed their respective visions of economic development.

Although very often portrayed as inefficient and solely representing the interests of rich countries (Commission on Global Governance 1995; Ikenberry 1993), the G7 still represents an important forum of discussions among major actors in the world economy. Stating that the G7 is "maligned, mistrusted and misunderstood," John Kirton believes that on the contrary, "the G7 and now Group of Eight (G8) is emerging as an effective centre, and is prospectively the effective centre, of global governance." (Kirton 1999, 45-46). Having started primarily as an economic forum where the leaders of the seven countries exchanged views on economic co-operation among themselves, the Group gradually expanded its horizons, with international poverty and development becoming more visible over time in the G7 documentation. The last Summit of the Eight at Cologne showed a genuine concern for the plight of the poor. Upon returning home, British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted that for him, the collective promise made to alleviate the debt burden of the poorest nations of the world was the most important commitment taken at the Cologne Summit (British Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1999). This is not a small statement considering the numerous topics covered. Moreover, the fact that human suffering and poverty are now treated on equal grounds with the economic problems of developing countries shows some obvious modifications in the Group's vision of development.

Among the Bretton Woods institutions, the choice of the IMF and not the World Bank or the WTO for this study rests on two considerations. Firstly, the IMF has seen its importance grow dramatically in this era of globalisation, and its leaders fully expect to see this trend continue to increase as it becomes the key institution in the creation of the new international financial architecture (IMF 1996, 243; 1998). Secondly, since the IMF was first created to ensure short term equilibrium for both current and capital accounts to avoid any major international financial instability, it can be argued that the inclusion of social safety nets and poverty reduction objectives within the Fund's structural adjustment packages in the last decade really mark a break with the orthodoxy of the eighties. The thesis of a pendulum swing within the international community's development discourse in the 1990s should be reinforced by any major modifications in the discourse and policies of the IMF.

The evolution of the international development discourse

The 1960s and the 1980s can be labelled times of tide reversals in the international development discourse. The 1960s saw the plight of the poor become a major topic in the international arena, while the 1980s saw their demands being rejected by rich countries. However, there is an apparent shift in the international development discourse of the G7 and the Bretton Woods' institutions toward a renewed interest in the social needs of developing countries and in international poverty more generally.

The massive decolonisation movement that started in the 1950s and continued in the 1960s brought new (mainly poor) countries into the international institutions and rapidly changed the face of international debates on development and poverty, especially within the United Nations' institutions. Due to the "one nation-one vote" mechanism in the decision-making process of the United Nations, poor countries saw their weight increase dramatically within the institution, giving them a powerful new voice in this international arena. The creation of UNCTAD in 1964 to discuss international trade and economic development issues within the UN institutional framework also increased the negotiating power of the South (Adams 1994). Taking advantage of this apparently favourable position, poor countries put together an ambitious program of reform of the international system: the New International Economic Order. The NIEO explicitly demanded that the international economic system be reformed to give additional advantages to Third World countries due to their unfavourable economic situations (Krasner 1985; Murphy 1984; Tinbergen 1978).

Unfortunately for developing countries, these demands were harshly rejected by the rich North in the 1980s, partly due to the mounting influence of the conservative right corresponding the election of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. Then ensued the boycott of UNESCO and other international discussion fora on development by the United States and Great Britain at the beginning of the 1980s, really marking the end of the "North-South Dialogue" and the beginning of the "lost decade" for development. The voice of the South did not have the same resonance as before, despite the efforts of many.

In addition to the changing ideological stance of the North, the South itself lost some of its supposed homogeneity (Berger 1994). It quickly became apparent that some countries were profiting from the existing order, with the Newly Industrialised Countries' economies growing at an extraordinarily fast rate. On the other hand, numerous nations were simply unable to get out of their state of extreme poverty and felt more and more isolated from the international economic system. This lost homogeneity remains a major problem for students of development, who are searching for a new paradigm to replace the notion of a well-integrated "Third World" (Schuurman 1999).

Also during the 1980s, the United Nations became less important as an economic forum of discussion, being superseded by the Bretton Woods institutions, like the IMF, the World Bank, and the GATT/WTO, where the decision-making process is not as democratic as in the UN, allowing for a much greater control over decisions by the richer nations. The changing locus of discussions on development has had a tremendous influence on the nature of the debate. Talks did not seek anymore to adapt the system to poor countries' needs, but pledged for a better adjustment to the system by poor countries. In this new light, structural adjustment programs (SAPs) became the principal instrument in attempting to modify the economic conditions of the developing countries and integrate them in the international economy. Social needs and poverty alleviation were not an important part of adjustment packages, which often overlooked the societal impact of the reforms undertaken. Many scholars saw this insistence on strong macroeconomic adjustments as a strategy to force developing countries into the international capitalist system, thus helping rich countries' economies more than it helped the poor (Wood 1986; 1996).

Many observers pretend that there has been another major reversal in the international development discourse of the Bretton Woods institutions in the 1990s, which saw social problems and poverty coming back as major international issues (Shakow 1995; IMF 1997, 28). Conversely, the present paper sustains that although there were undoubtedly major indications of change within the international development discourse of the G7 and the IMF, the very nature of the discourse remained the same. It is certainly true that poverty and the social aspects of adjustment policies have made a remarkable return in the "jargon" of the G7 and the IMF. On the other hand, one fundamental aspect has been maintained firmly, that is "the primary responsibility for fighting poverty lies with the governments and the people of developing countries themselves." (World Bank 1996, vii). Thus, while the NIEO and the discussions of the 1960s and 1970s were oriented toward transforming the system in favour of poor countries, the discourse of the 1990s is similar to the orthodoxy of the 1980s in that the fault for underdevelopment lies within national barriers.

The signs of major discursive changes

Starting after the mid-1980s, the debates around international development reinstated poverty and other social issues as important topics to discuss along with the economy. Within both the G7 and the IMF, it is clear that these issues have gained prominence in the last decade or so. Although development has been mentioned from the very beginning of the G7 process (Baynes 1999, 33), it really gained a lot of importance after the 1988 Toronto Summit, where important decisions, known as the "Toronto Terms," were taken regarding to poor countries' debt. These terms were also accepted by the IMF and the Paris Club. From then on, the issue of developing countries indebtedness became a recurrent topic at each Summit, culminating with the Cologne Debt Initiative. This initiative asks that creditor countries relieve up to 90% of the bilateral commercial debts of the poorest countries, included in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) framework. Although debt reduction and poverty reduction are different matters, both the G7 and the IMF see a very tight link between indebtedness and underdevelopment, making debt relief a major concern in any talk about economic development.

But this increased emphasis on debt forgiveness is not the only area where the G7 has accentuated its attention to international development issues. The Lyon Summit of 1996 may have been the most important turning point in this regard, with the implementation of the New Partnership for Development. This new partnership where rich and poor countries were assigned a list of responsibilities to ensure global prosperity and welfare set many important goals, like the "reduction of poverty and social inequities, the respect of internationally recognized labour standards, protection of children, a strengthened civil society, protection of the environment, improved health and education." (Economic Communiqué, Lyon G7 Summit, 28 June 1996). There is no doubt that these objectives reflect more than a simple concern for macroeconomics and mark a change to more human sensitivity in the G7 discourse. It was also in Lyon that the G7 fully endorsed the HIPC initiative. In Denver in 1997, African development was a major concern and member countries assured that they were "committed to a results-oriented approach to development policy, with the particular goal of combating extreme poverty." (Communiqué, Denver G8 Summit, 22 June 1997).

At Birmingham in 1998, the same concern for the problems of the poorest was noticeable. However, the onset of the Asian Crisis before the Summit directed attention toward this region. Responding to the enormous social costs of the Crisis, the Group of Eight insisted that "[e]conomic and financial reform needed to be matched with actions and policies by the countries concerned to help protect [the poor and most vulnerable] from the worst effects of the crisis." (Communiqué, Birmingham G8 Summit, 17 May 1998). In accordance with the visible changes of the previous Summits, the final communiqué of the Cologne Summit of 1999 included an unprecedented number of developmental issues. A large part of the text relating to development emphasised the need to invest in people and social protection policies, reinforcing the previously remarked trend.

The International Monetary Fund also modified its discourse on international development during the same period. The publication of the UNICEF study Adjustment with a Human Face in 1987 (Cornia, Jolly and Stewart 1987) is often mentioned as a turning point favouring the insertion of social issues within the structural adjustment programs of the Fund and the World Bank. From then on, poverty alleviation and the social impact of adjustment policies gained salience in the discourse and the macroeconomic policies of both institutions.

On the discursive side, the ex-Managing Director of the Fund, Michel Camdessus recognised that "persistence of zones of extreme poverty is a scandal..." (IMF 1995, 35). He also insisted on the importance of increasing the equity of the economic reforms proposed to poor countries by the IMF (IMF 1997, 29). In the 1996, Eduardo Aninat, Chairman of the Boards of Governors of the Fund, stated that there was an "urgent need for increased efficiency and better targeting of social spending as an effective means to improve social equity and to reduce poverty." (IMF 1996b, 9). The IMF has also been engaging in active dialogues with other international institutions possessing more expertise on poverty and other social issues, like the World Bank and the United Nations (IMF 1999). The Fund participated in many international social policy forums, like the 1995 World Summit for Social Development. It also organised the 1995 conference on Income Distribution and Sustainable Growth and another one on Economic Policy and Equity in 1998, reflecting a more serious concern for equity issues (IMF 1999, 9). In line with these international discussions, the Fund also started to publish more studies on the impact of its policies on the poor (Gupta et. al. 1998; IMF 1995a).

From a policy standpoint, the IMF has taken numerous steps to include social policy concerns in its adjustment packages. The establishment of the Structural Adjustment Facility (SAF) in 1986 was the first of these steps, followed by the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) in 1987 and finally the HIPC initiative in 1996. In accordance with the new insistence on the maintenance or even increase of social spending by governments in periods of adjustment, the Fund also started to monitor more closely the level of public spending in countries subjected to SAPs (IMF 1999). Moreover, following the demands of Finance Ministers for an enhanced framework for poverty reduction at the 1999 Cologne G7 Summit, the Fund has increased its efforts at monitoring and increasing its attention to social issues (IMF 1999, 7).

The same underlying message

It has been argued in the previous section that important changes have occurred in the development discourse and policies of the G7 and the IMF. However, the following segment of the paper will demonstrate that these changes remain superficial and that the underlying message and beliefs of the discourse and policies stayed relatively the same as in the eighties. Thus, while there has been increased attention given to poverty and other social issues by both institutions, their leaders still maintain that it is the responsibility of countries themselves to adapt to the international system, and not to the system to adapt itself to the needs of countries. So, while it is acknowledged that globalisation can have deleterious effects for some populations, the afflicted countries must assume full responsibility for their problems. This view is based on a "consensus that global opening and integration offer the only path to worldwide prosperity…" (IMF 1997a, 289 emphasis added). There is thus no other alternative than to accept the rules of international capitalism. Free markets and low government interventionism are presented as the key to sustainable development, because governments "cannot be expected to play the dominant role in fostering growth. The most effective economic strategies are private sector led and outward oriented." (IMF 1997b, 10).

The G7 Summits may have put more emphasis on poverty alleviation and social problems, but a strong belief in the goodness of economic liberalisation is noticeable in every final communiqué over the last decade. Mentions of the "benefits" of "globalisation" appear constantly within the summitry's official documents. However, on every occasion it is stressed that these benefits can only be reaped if countries accept to do the necessary economic and political reforms. Poor countries are thus deemed responsible for their own situations. The acclaimed New Partnership for Development established in Lyon "starts from the principle that it is the responsibility of the developing countries themselves to determine and pursue policies to reduce poverty and foster sustainable, job-creating, equitable and environmentally friendly development." (Economic Communiqué, Lyon G7 Summit, 28 June 1996). The Denver and Birmingham Summits do not make exception to this rule, emphasising the need to better integrate developing countries in the global economy. Even the Cologne Summit, arguably the most favourable to the plight of the poor, insisted on the fact that countries had to adapt to globalisation in order to collect the benefits. Contrarily to what was discussed in the 1960s and particularly in the 1970s with the NIEO, there was (and there is) no reform of the international system on the agenda. The burden of adjustment rests entirely with the developing countries.

For the IMF, the same notion of internal adjustments to the needs of the international system reappears throughout its discourse in the 1980s and 1990s. Like for the G7, globalisation is seen as fundamentally good and is an "opportunity to seize" (IMF 1997c, translation of the author). But to seize this opportunity, countries have to play by the rules, because they cannot "compete for blessings of the global capital markets and refuse their discipline." (IMF 1997d, 292). Structural adjustments remain oriented toward cuts in government spending, privatisation and liberalisation. Not only do countries need to make formidable adjustment efforts within a few years, but structural adjustments is now presented as a permanent feature of developing countries' economic policies (IMF 1996a, 259). Globalisation and structural adjustments can have deleterious short-term effects for the poorest of the poor, but they are both necessary for long term growth and reduction of poverty according to the IMF. There is not much of a difference with the discourse of the 1980s, except for the constant use of the word globalisation.

Implications for international development

This analysis of the discourse and policies of the G7 and the IMF did not directly pose judgement on the viability of the proposed developmental solutions. It simply outlined how the fundamental nature of the discourse was maintained throughout the 1980s and 1990s. But the implications of these similarities for the development prospects of poor countries in the new millennium are great. Without flatly rejecting the many advantages brought about by democratic capitalism, some major caveats and contradictions can be pointed out within the language and policies of the G7 and the IMF.

First, the strong emphasis on the need for countries to adjust internally to the international environment is a cause for concern in an era of globalisation. The concern stems primarily from the great instability of the international economy due the sheer amount of money that circulates around the world every day (Mackenzie and Lee 1991; Solomon 1995; Strange 1986). The Mexican Crisis of 1994 and the Asian Crisis of 1997 certainly gave examples of this fragility. It is certainly true that some countries can be blamed for their problems. However, higher international stability increases the possibility of unjustified financial downturns, especially for very poor countries. If globalisation can be a threat to the possibility of domestic governance for rich and politically stable democracies (Cerny 1995; Martin and Schumann 1997; Schmidt 1995), one can imagine how destabilising is can be for the poorest developing countries who lack political and economic stability. The G7 and the Fund are thus asking countries to adjust to a system that can punish them even if they do exactly what they are told to. Moreover, by implementing the adjustments necessary according the G7 and the IMF, these countries raise their short-term vulnerability to political and social crises. The possibility of sustainable development thus depends of both the rightfulness of the reforms demanded and the good will of capital markets. The risk associated with increased globalisation and the structural reforms would be easier to accept if the affected countries were not the only imputable parties for the possible problems. But the development discourse of the two institutions implies that while countries can always be blamed for their problems (even when they have done nothing wrong), the international system, and globalisation, can never be blamed or modified to prevent domestic troubles. But if justice is to be served, individual countries should not be faulted for the mistakes of the system.

This first contradiction is amplified by a second one: the lack of funding for the poorest countries. Both organisations recognise that the poorest of the poor are not viewed favourably by financial markets. Although the macroeconomic reforms demanded from these countries have for objective to make them more attractive to private investors, the G7 and the Fund insist on the fact that public funds are absolutely essential for these countries because it takes time to gain the confidence of investors. Summit after Summit, the G7 commits itself to support these poorer nations by furnishing sufficient official development aid (ODA), as does the Fund each year. However, the ratio of aid to the GDP given by G7 countries is on a steady decline since the end of the Cold War, and the rest of the international community is not faring much better (DAC, diverse years). Tight budgetary conditions at the national level can certainly be faulted for the cuts in ODA, but why continue to insist on aid's centrality if rich nations refuse to commit themselves to give the money needed? Poor countries are told to make their own efforts to make difficult (and risky in a context of globalisation) adjustments, but the public money needed to compensate for the lack of private funding is simply not coming.

The two caveats presented here do not represent an exhaustive list of the reproaches that can be directed at both institutions, as critiques from the left and the right have always feasted on these two institutions' discourse and policies. However, this paper does not intend to enter in a discussion on the viability of the type of global capitalism promoted by the G7 and the IMF, being contempt to highlight the discursive incongruities in these institutions' vision of international development. The inconsistencies discussed here point to one major implication for the development possibilities of poor countries: the policies proposed increase the risk of domestic crises by implementing socially and politically costly adjustments and opening the economy to unstable international capital markets. This is not to say that this strategy will never bring about sustainable development or will always provoke major internal trouble. It can certainly have positive effects for many countries. However, the risks involved are great and rich countries need to take their responsibility to make them less dangerous for poor countries engaging in the process of reform. Diminishing the risks means increasing the levels of ODA granted and also envisaging to modify the international economic order so that it becomes more just for everyone.

Concluding remarks

The increased insistence on the importance of social issues within the discourse and policies of the G7 and the IMF is a sign that modification of their respective vision of international development is possible. The Cologne Summit of last year and the reaction of the Bretton Woods institutions to the Asian Crisis are good examples if this possibility. In Cologne, the leaders of the G8 have shown greater concern for the problems of developing countries than ever before. Also, the IMF and the World Bank admitted that they had made some mistakes in their interventions before and during the Asian Crisis. But even the severity of this financial turmoil did not moderate their enthusiasm regarding the free movement of capital, as the Crisis was presented as a "tempora[ry] set back" (Communiqué, Birmingham G8 Summit, 17 Mai 1998). Much remains to be done to achieve a genuine and necessary transformation in the development discourse of the G8 and the IMF.

A good starting point for this change would be to follow the advice of Joseph Stiglitz and recognise that liberalisation and other economic reforms are only means to achieve an end, and not the end in itself (IMF 1998b, 146). In other words, the end is development and the tools should not be reified as permanent or perfect. There is always room for change and improvement. Although a return to protectionism and trade wars would not be the solution for anyone, increased international co-operation to "tame" capital markets (Porter 1996) and discipline them to the needs of the world's populations is necessary. Regaining some control over financial markets might be difficult, but it remains possible (Eichengreen, Tobin and Wyplosz 1995; Kapstein 1994; Underhill 1991). Saying that it is impossible or that there is no other way is mostly an ideological statement. But this revision of the international economic system's ordering principles is not sufficient to improve the plight of the poor. Rich countries need to take their responsibility. They must add effective policies and more money to their promises, because words alone will not help.


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