A la mode

One fun and snobby way of undermining the sincerity, originality, and appropriateness of someone else’s moral claim is to call it “fashionable.” Perhaps not surprisingly philosophers do this to each other all of the time. “Oh that’s really hot right now” is another way of suggesting that someone is a follower rather than an original thinker.

With that broad theme in mind, let’s turn to today’s lesson from George Will. The World Bank scandal–in which Paul Wolfowitz, patient listener and student of foreign languages used his leadership role to score a lucrative job for his girlfriend–teaches us not about the incompetence, arrogance and corruption of its president, but it informs us about the decades long retreat from “statism” and of the absurdities of fettering capitalism. In the course of making this argument (which someone else can bother with), Will points to the superficiality of the World Bank’s causes:

>Much of what recipient countries save by receiving the bank’s subsidized loans they pay in the costs of ” technical assistance,” the euphemism for being required to adopt the social agendas of the rich nations’ governments that fund the bank. Those agendas focus on intrusive government actions on behalf of fashionable causes — the empowerment of women, labor, environmentalism, indigenous peoples, etc.

Take that girls, workers and environment. When will misogyny, slavery, pollution, and imperialism come back in style? Those were the days.

7 thoughts on “A la mode”

  1. even if he does so poorly, Will usually attempts argument in his columns. this one was just a rambling, disjointed rant about…wel it’s hard to tell. the paragraph you’ve cited is particularly odious. i think we get a real peek into Will’s psuedo-libertarianism, however with the use of “intrusive government actions” to describe the “social agendas” of lender nations. on Will’s view, anything that seeks to better the lives of poor, oppressed peoples and works to protect the environment is obviously a plan by the social democrats in the ultra-lefty EU to overthrow the neoconservative’s vehement protection of personal autonomy.

  2. By my understanding, though, the World Bank is hated by the left for the very same reasons.

    The empowerment of women is great, but if they’re “empowered” through some red tape, paperwork-y implementation, which looks nice to the big investors back home–and this comes in place of spending the cash on other things, like, say, feeding people, then I’d say it’s a fair critique that fashionable do-good’ing has trumped genuine assistance.

    Though it’s interesting, as “pm” points out, how the examples of fashionable actions Will picks may betray his biases. He certainly doesn’t complain about the privatization of natural resources and other mandatory neoliberal reforms.

  3. I’ve heard that as well. But that’s not my point. Will’s dig is at the superficial motivations of those interested in those particular causes–not (at this point in his argument) whether these are the best means to achieve them. Another part of his argument makes the point that the world bank does not achieve its end of ending poverty effectively. That’s a separate point. Those ends he calls “fashionable,” however, are not reasonably or fairly characterized as such.

  4. Though he’s done a miserable job of forming a cogent argument for his position, I do think one could be made. It isn’t that one needs to be convinced that the causes for which money from the bank is earmarked are frivolous, but rather that they do not always represent the needs of the people inoloved. Enviromental restraint, and the empowerment of women certainly important causes, but in nation states lacking in fundemental economic infastructure to provide santitary living conditions, or those that are plagued with nearly incessant war and disease, these causes simply to do not reflect the dire needs of the nation involved. This is generally the result of the “rich-nations’ (Europe, US), who own the majority of the World Bank, trying to force a certain agenda on a nation in order to score political points at home. While, as Mallaby mentions, the bank was quick to rescue the Tiger economies from the Financial Crisis of the past decade, it was also partly to blame for the fiasco in the first place. At that time, conservitive thinktanks where exercising a great deal of influence over American economic thought. The bank forced many of these ideas (high interest rates, tough working conditions, overly speciaized earmark spending, as well as inflating currency), onto these economies as though it were some sort of one-size fits all magic program that would be appropriate for any given economy. As a result, foreign capital was driven out of these economies, and the crisis emerged. While the goals that the Bank has been trumping lately are inapproaprately ridiculed by Will, they are not always what a state needs. Often times, the bank’s agenda simply reflects the poliitical agenda of the countries who provide the financial backing to these loans. In order for the bank to be able to address the real needs of developing nations, it must assert itself as an independent institution, away from political agendas, or it will find that it no longer has a place in development.

  5. Dear Steve,

    You write: “Though he’s done a miserable job of forming a cogent argument for his position, I do think one could be made.”

    That’s probably right. Most of the time an argument can be made for a position. The point of most of the posts on this site is that too many bad arguments are made. Everyone would be better off if good arguments were made. Especially the people who make them.

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