Wednesday, May 16, 2007
What's the difference between a neo-conservative and a neo-liberal?
Both want economic policies that open borders to capital flows. The answer might give insight into the clash of outlooks that lead to the uprising against Paul Wolfowitz at The World Bank. Commonly reported as a clash between a "liberal-humanitarian" organization and the hawkish Wolfowitz, it's been assumed the halls were buzzing with resentment even before he arrived at his post. While it's easy to imagine the furor, I can't go along with the description of the tension as a classic liberal vs. conservative clash. The World Bank is known for executing policies which have been shown to further disadvantage the poor in countries where the WB purports to improve their conditions. For example, their policies have favored privatization of water putting human needs further out of reach of the poor. In repayment demands, they have expected governments to impose strict austerity measures including drastic cuts to health and human services. Back to our title question, what's the difference between a neo-conservative and a neo-liberal? To quote Woody Guthrie, one robs you with a six-gun; one with a fountain pen.
There's not so much a policy difference between them but rather the acceptable degree of coercion to back it up. Remember Wolfowitz's original faux-pas at the Bank was not this alleged preferential treatment. (Hey, they approved it. What gives?) No. The true offense was his decision to undermine a loan deal the Bank had spent years discussing by suddenly retracting the offer in the face-to-face meeting with the client, accusing the client of corruption thereby humiliating them and the Bank's representatives. The maneuver confirmed the prejudice of Wolfowitz as a self-righteous bully so convinced of the morality of his view, he feels no need to discuss his judgements--precisely the hubris that landed us in Iraq.
Europeans have a healthy suspicion of bullies and idealism. They will not be bullied and have taken the coward's path to remove one. The World Bank is itself a bully with a polite face. Wolfowtiz unmasked it. His bravado and authoritarian style does not fit with the Bank's desired image. That they routinely allow funds to be diverted to corrupt regimes is only one of their hypocrisies. Crushing Wolfowitz for "corruption" is another. The irony and the sting of this tactic is that he is not corrupt, but rather an ideologue-a true believer- and that is precisely what has made him a danger in positions of power.