Kate Bayliss, Ben Fine, Elisa Van Waeyenberge
This second book in the IIPPE series presents an extensive critical assessment of World Bank research, with contributions from experts on aid, social capital, privatisation, HIV/AIDS, agriculture, financial sector liberalisation, violence and conflict, and China. Initially inspired by a 2006 World Bank-commissioned evaluation of its own research, the material gathered in this book seeks to go beyond a simple topic-based assessment, to situate the self-styled “knowledge bank” in the context of the multi-faceted objectives of the Bank (lender, policy-maker, knowledge repository) as well as in wider developmental discourse. The shifting tensions between scholarship, advocacy and policy in practice are highlighted. Each chapter sets out the Bank’s position, reviewing the empirical evidence and theory that putatively underpins its policies, exposing limitations and offering alternative approaches.
Despite the diversity of topics, some common themes have emerged. First, the chapters each point to weaknesses in the neo-liberal framework used universally across diverse topics. Methodological individualism is stretched beyond the limits of credibility. Second, a narrow economics dominates over all other disciplines in World Bank research. Third, the chapters in this book show time and again that Bank research relies on large empirical studies using sophisticated statistical methods which give the illusion of science and certainty when the underlying data and theory are often not robust. Finally, the chapters show that, across subject areas, the Bank is wedded to pro-market (i.e. private capital) policies. The book is by no means exhaustive and many more topics need to be covered, particularly climate change and poverty reduction. However - in light of the increasing propensity to crises as recently witnessed in finance and agriculture - the authors present a timely alternative perspective on development research on which others can draw and to which they can critically and constructively contribute.