MARKET TELLS THEM SO: THE WORLD BANK AND ECONOMIC FUNDAMENTALISM IN AFRICA. By John
Mihevc. London and New Jersey: ZED Books Ltd, 1995. pp. 313, $29.95.
This book examines structural adjustment policies (SAPs) emanating from the World Bank.
There is no attempt to analyze SAPs in a detached manner by evaluating the pros and cons
of these policies in the context of African countries; rather, Mihevc has produced a work
that is entirely polemical in nature. He views the World Bank as having an agenda which
denies all alternative strategies for development except the policy of SAPs
promulgated by the Bank. Whereas most discussions of SAPs occur at a macroeconomic level,
the book moves to an analysis of the impact of SAPs at a grassroots level. Mihevc asserts
two themes which unify his approach. One theme focuses on the many movements opposing SAPs
and the fact that these movements "cut across a variety of social, ethnic, religious
and class groupings." His second theme " involves an intellectual commitment to
these emerging alliances" (p.10).
This book very simply rejects development policies which work through the market. Such
policies, it is argued, have worsened the lives of the typical citizen of the nations
where they have been adopted. Women and children have suffered the most. In the process,
large-scale environmental degradation has taken place in a global market that has
exploited the nations of the South to the benefit of the North. As you read this work, you
quickly detect a familiar leftist ring in the analysis. In fact, nearly all of the
citations come from non-mainstream sources and contain standard terminology from Marxist
writings such as "fetters" and "withering away." In short, this
critique of market adjustment policies are clearly recognizable to anyone who has had
contact with criticisms of the capitalist system.
Having entered the teaching profession in the late-sixties and being exposed to radical
critiques of the capitalist system of that period, I noted a similarity between those
arguments and that of Mihevc. Leftist analysis was long on the shortcomings of capitalism
but noticeably weak on alternatives. Mihevc constantly attacks market policies but offers
little in the way of other options. A strategy having Africa delink from the global
economy is suggested, but not explained. Thus, we are repeatedly given examples of a
global market economy that produces hardship for the poor of the South while generating
riches for the elite of that region and the transnational corporations of the North. And
repeatedly the author fails to offer a concrete and integrated set of policies (program)
to counter this system.
These criticisms aside, there are several aspects of the book which are worthy of
comment. Mihevc indicates " the World Bank has become the predominant theological
institution devoted to changing the world in the area of development" (p. 22). He
gives a less than charitable overview of protestant fundamentalism, noting it is narrow
and dogmatic in approach. In particular, fundamentalists reject any interpretations other
than what is accepted within their own orthodoxy. Mihevc argues the World Bank has a
fundamentalist mindset and has "attained undisputed hegemony by means of tactics
employed by fundamentalist religions" (p.31). He goes on to draw parallels between
major tenets of fundamentalism and policy positions of the World Bank.
The final two chapters were of some surprise given their inclusion in a book devoted to
SAPs; however, since the books focus was on the impact of SAPs at the grassroots
their presence is understandable. The chapter titles are "African Churches and the
Crisis of Structural Adjustment" and "Structural Adjustment and Women: The
Response of the Churches." Both examine the response of church and womens
organizations to the dislocations produced by structural adjustment. These organizations
are seen as growing in number and in activity. The interpretation which follows suggests
that church and womens activities have become a more important force in political
life. No evidence was presented which would substantiate this claim. Has the political
process become more participatory or are there now more groups outside of that process?
Mihevc charges the World Bank has created a vision of the development process that has
become narrow and dogmatic - an economic fundamentalism. Sadly, his own criticism stripped
to its essentials has the ring of that " old time religion" of the left.
Roger L. Adkins