Friday, May 25, 2007

baseball? world bank?

What will Richard Levin's next career be? I always hoped he'd end up the baseball commissioner, under the rationale that a PC neo-liberal economist with no real sympathy or sensitivity to the damage done by market "failures" couldn't do too much damage in the MLB. Head of the World Bank is exactly the kind of position where Mr. Levin's impractical and dehumanized economic views would produce terrible outcomes while appearing (as at Yale) to be progressive in the economic sense.

I respect Levin as a theorist, in so far as his work (what I've read of it) takes a considered and methodical approach to navigating the intersections of political philosophy and economic reality. But his concept of what we're doing on this planet leaves a lot to be desired, which is why his version of democracy -- and, for that matter, his interpretation of what actually constitutes market economics -- differs so significantly from people like me. Being a such a careful thinker, I don't believe he ignores the pervasive and destructive influence of capital and the complicity of the state in ceding control. I think he accepts, perhaps welcomes the situation we're in, and constructs his ideas about markets and society with our current situation as a given.

Anyway, that doesn't make him much different than any of his many, many compatriots in the Academy or the international development community, but nevertheless I'm hoping that, to score PR points, Bush may appoint someone less loyal with more of a humanitarian record. Or, as I said before, I'd pretty much settle for someone with actual development experience. A lot to ask, though.


Not a Flaneur, I Just Walk A lot said...

When I read Levin, i always come back to this speech, first introduced to me by Smokler about two weeks after Levin delivered it. It's an incredibly stark articulation of the neoliberal university and neoliberal trade theory and practice, and i think this technocratic ideologism is why Bush is considering tapping him. If that happens, I think Bush will probably be praised by a lot of democrats because Levin isn't seen as particularly loyal to the bush administration even though he is, and pundits will talk about how unlike wolfowitz, Levin is actually qualified for the job, insofar as he is actually an economist. Of course, the problem is in part the job itself, and the more immediate and important point about the destructive effects of the world bank and IMF will have to be made in the streets...

alek said...

I agree as far as Levin/Bush are concerned. I don't think the problem is the job itself so much as the institution, from which I believe it is possible to dissociate, and within which I believe it is possible to create change. The World Bank is a heavily regulated entity, but its approach to markets and development can be altered by its leadership...and I think that's especially true because, at least in my limited understanding, the US tends to exceptionalize itself and impose its ideology on the other participants. Even a leader willing to cooperate and explore development methods outside the neoliberal model could do an enormous amount of good just by undoing what's been done already.

Not a Flaneur, I Just Walk A lot said...

A more multilateral world bank, and I don't know that that's really what Zoellick is after, might be more progressive and less rooted in market -fundamentalist epistemology than one directed by Wolfowitz, but in all likelihood it won't be all that different. U.S. dominance of the IMF and WB is a problem but far from the only one.

They could make Che Guevara's cloned brain the president of the World Bank and I'm not sure even then how much good could be done. The World Bank is and has always been rooted in a certain imperialist developmentalism inseparable from a version of the state and of modernity which poses itself against the kinds of things that you and folks who read your blog fight for.

So i don't know that I see change as coming at the institutional level as far as the world bank is concerned, but instead from and through the "multitude" of movements challenging the state/capitalism nexus that the world bank has tried to promote and protect and instead positing and creating new social relations and new ways of being (human?).

alek said...

Hmmm. No, obviously that's not where Zoellick is headed, but re: the World Bank as an institution, I don't view it as unredeemable. I view it less like a corporation (chartered with the express purpose of capital accumulation) and more like a university, or the NIH, or a hospital -- institutions that may be rooted in destructive ideologies, but are not inseparable from them or incapable of acting to the public good. In other words, redeemable. Moreover, as with the institutions I mentioned, dismantling them would have inevitably destructive consequences, and though I believe that destruction might be necessary to create something sustainable for human life, a participant-led re-purposing of the World Bank could minimize those destructive effects.

I don't know...I'm not a development expert. Which, to return to my original point, I wish would actually disqualify me from replacing Zoellick when his time is up.