Washington Consensus

The term Washington Consensus was coined in 1989 by the economist John Williamson to describe a set of ten relatively specific economic policy prescriptions that he considered constituted the "standard" reform package promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries by Washington, D.C.-based institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the US Treasury Department. The prescriptions encompassed policies in such areas as macroeconomic stabilization, economic opening with respect to both trade and investment, and the expansion of market forces within the domestic economy.

Subsequently to Williamson's minting of the phrase, and despite his emphatic opposition, the term Washington Consensus has come to be used fairly widely in a second, broader sense, to refer to a more general orientation towards a strongly market-based approach (sometimes described, typically pejoratively, as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism). In emphasizing the magnitude of the difference between the two alternative definitions, Williamson himself has argued (below) that his ten original, narrowly-defined prescriptions have largely acquired the status of "motherhood and apple pie" (i.e., are broadly taken for granted), whereas the subsequent broader definition, representing a form of neoliberal manifesto, "never enjoyed a consensus or anywhere much else" and can by now reasonably be said to be dead.

Discussion of the Washington Consensus has long been contentious. Partly this reflects a lack of agreement over what is meant by the term, in face of the contrast between the broader and narrower definitions outlined above. But there are also substantive differences involved over the merits and consequences of the various policy prescriptions involved. Some of the critics discussed in this article take issue, for example, with the original Consensus's emphasis on the opening of developing countries to global markets, and/or with what they see as an excessive focus on strengthening the influence of domestic market forces, arguably at the expense of key functions of the state. For other commentators reviewed below, the point at issue is less what is included in the Consensus than what is missing, including such areas as institution-building and targeted efforts to improve opportunities for the weakest in society. Despite these areas of controversy, a great many writers and development institutions would by now accept the more general proposition that strategies need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of individual countries.

Read more about Washington Consensus:  Context, Macroeconomic Adjustment, Trade Liberalization, Criticism, Argentina, Subsidies For Agriculture, Continuing Controversy, Missing Elements, Alternative Usage Vis-a-vis Foreign Policy

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