Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” The economic policies of the World Bank & IMF have increased global inequality. The COVID pandemic illustrates how public health and environmental failures spill past national borders. Our interconnected planet faces transnational phenomena that increasingly have the potential to disrupt our day-to-day lives. Global economic development and justice require a model of development which values global public goods.
Dr. Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist, writes on global inequality, “The notion that aid is a meaningful way to reduce global inequality represents an extraordinary failure to grasp the structural forces that produce and perpetuate global inequality. Poor countries don’t need charity, they need justice.” Contemporary global economic inequality and environmental degradation are two sides of the same problem. They represent a post-colonial economic order meant to preserve the wealth of the global north.
Development policies promoted by the IMF and World Bank demand the borrower countries resort to fiscal austerity and privatization. Argentina and Greece are excellent examples of the consequences of this type of policy. However, historical analysis of wealthy nations shows that protectionism and investment in human capacities ended up creating service-oriented prosperous country economies. Thus, the logic of privatization and the forms of development pushed on poor borrowers are flawed. Arguably, they are unjust.
A fundamental theory in international studies is that economically tied democracies do not fight one another. The economic integration model linked strictly to GDP does not deliver long-term global peace and stability. As developing countries destroy their environment to sell natural resources to the global north, they undermine their growth potential. The marginalized poor suffer the worst consequences of environmental degradation. At the community level, the desire for economic development pits disparate parties against one another. A clean environment is a public good. When communities disregard this, conflict and degradation follow reckless economic growth.
We need new metrics. We can improve economic injustice and environmental degradation through complex systems thinking by valuing public goods differently. There are environmentally sustainable global development forms that correct the global North-South wealth inequity. Naomi Klein’s work suggests a starting point. We need a new analysis that considers human well-being. Solutions can develop once worldwide health and environmental stewardship become global concerns.
Creative solutions and a re-imagining of global public goods are our existential imperatives. As this pandemic has shown, nation-states do not exist on their own. Good immunity to withstand disease, the knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction, and strong domestic infrastructure can have global consequences. When countries revisit national priorities with these well-being metrics, we will be on our way to just international development.