The WTO and the poor

The following is a portion of a talk by Raj Patel titled ‘How the world bank makes everything worse’. The full video and transcript can be found at:

“When I was a graduate student, I was offered the opportunity to intern for and work for the World Bank. And I was given the opportunity to examine a range of classified World Bank documents to see how the World Bank was talking about poverty, about the ways that it was tackling the poor.

Now it turns out that the examination of these documents wasn’t going to be a critical examination. Instead it turned out that those documents were used to create, basically, a sort of puff piece called “Voices of the Poor, Can Anyone Hear Us?” Now, it’s important to get a sense of what the World Bank does and how it operates. If you don’t know anything about the World Bank, I have a small contribution to the world of pedagogy and it relies on a metaphor that comes from the Terry Gilliam film, “Time Bandits.”

… [In the film “Time Bandits”] they end up in Sherwood Forest where they are met by Robin Hood, who is played by John Cleese as a sort of upper class twit. He’s wearing a sort of bright green hat and he calls himself “Hood.” And Hood’s very excited by all of Napoleon’s stuff and he says, “This is tremendous. Thank you very much indeed. The poor will love this. Have you met the poor? They’re charming people, of course they don’t have too pennies to rub together but that ‘s because they’re poor.” And there’s a scene where Napoleon’s stuff is given away to the poor. And Hood works the line and he says, “How long have you been poor? Jolly good. Congratulations. Here, rubies for you.” And right next to him is this big hulking bloke who takes whatever Hood has given and punches the poor person in the face.

So, that’s kind of how the World Bank works. It’s in the business of making these large loans, but it is also a bank so it takes those loans back. And the punch in the face comes from the policies that this organization imposes on developing countries. Policies that have, for example in agriculture, have led to decimation in agriculture in say, Africa. It’s not me making this assessment, in fact, the World Bank a couple of years admitted that its policies have been a disaster in Sub-Saharan Africa. I say all of this because there is this sort of need within the World Bank to have reassurance that what it’s doing is right. A moment of saying, “Well, some of our best friends are poor people, have you met the poor? We had lunch with them yesterday, they love us.”

… I mean it needs this kind of self-justification. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the World Bank is filled with evil-doers. These sort of villains who are sitting in leathers chairs stroking cats thinking, “How are we going to fuck the third world today?” It’s not like that. It’s sort of very well meaning people, but they’re executing policies that are tremendously bad for developing countries.”