The Market or the Public Domain? Global Governance and the Asymmetry of Power

By Daniel Drache | Go to book overview

3

The re-constitution of the public domain

Harry Arthurs


Introduction

The Washington consensus represented a tacit but powerful agreement among neo-liberal ideologues, academic and government economists, central bankers, global business and financial institutions, publicists and politicians across the political spectrum. It expressed a few simple and seemingly irresistible 'truths': that during the post-war period, the state had become too expensive to sustain and too intrusive to tolerate; that if markets were freed of regulatory constraints, they would generate wealth and prosperity both locally and globally; and that wealth and prosperity were necessary (and seemingly sufficient) conditions for democracy and social well-being. The Washington consensus, as might be expected, was quite unsympathetic to any such notion as 'the public domain'. Moreover, it seldom put 'governing' on its agenda, except when emphasizing the need to govern less (by reducing social programmes and market regulation), to govern tougher (by coercing the poor, workers, undocumented immigrants or practitioners of non-standard life-styles), to govern 'smarter' (through privatization) or to govern more 'accountably' (to corporate interests).

But, it seems, the Washington consensus may be undergoing a transformation. First, its logic is no longer seen as irresistible. Currencies and commodities, corporations and countries once touted as exemplars are in varying degrees of disgrace and disrepair. As a result, local business elites, transnational social movements, ordinary citizens, even some national governments, are having second thoughts about neo-liberalism. Second, even 'truebelievers' in liberalized trade, open markets and diminished state activism have had to acknowledge publicly that the Washington consensus has delivered the goods only selectively and partially; that some of its peripheral features have to be reconfigured, if only with a view to preserving its core ideas; and - critical for the present discussion - that markets work best in reciprocity with other systems of social ordering (Wolfensohn 1998; Soros 1998). The result has been increasing interest within the World Bank and among leading representatives of the world business community in 'global governance' and 'civil society', in 'transparency' and 'accountability', and especially in 'the rule of law' (World Bank 1997). And third, recent research has hinted that despite the Washington consensus, the

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