Out with neoliberalism, forward people-centred development
Recent data point to how the people lose in the time of neoliberalism: the top 10 corporations’ combined revenue for 2015 is greater than that of 180 countries; [i] while more than a billion of the world’s poor are landless, with the unemployed to reach 200 million. [ii] People’s demands to end neoliberalism drove a few international institutions to finally admit the agenda’s failures.
Following years of outright complicity, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conservatively declared that only “aspects” of the neoliberal agenda worsened inequalities, such as openness to short-term speculative investments and austerity. [iii] The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), meanwhile, lamented increased corporate power at the expense of government regulation; and worsened debt situations and inequality in many countries in the last decades. [iv]
Such admissions only affirm longstanding demands by peoples who are at the receiving end of austerity, trade and investment liberalisation, privatisation of social services and state assets, and deregulation of important sectors. They have long demanded the end of neoliberal attacks especially in the global South, amid collusion among the IMF, the World Bank Group (WBG), and other international financial institutions.
People’s organisations opposed market fundamentalism, even before the UNCTAD called it a “fallacy [that] should be dropped”. [v] They were already condemning state complicity in stepping back regulation of multinational corporations (MNCs), whose interest is in amassing “surplus profits” through unequal relations with developing countries.Various civil society organizations (CSOs) had already reasoned that Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) worked for big business at the expense of people, [vi] ahead of the UNCTAD classifying PPPs as “raiding public sectors”. Movements have long stood against United States’ corporate interests in free trade agreements (FTAs), and against recent FTAs that threaten people’s access to social services and even seeds.
It is ever pertinent to heed people’s calls to finally end decades of neoliberalism around the world. This could not be expected to come from multilateral institutions [vii], which have been forwarding privatisation and liberalisation. For instance, the World Bank Group (WBG) has been an active promoter of PPPs; the Asian Development Bank pushed projects that benefited corporate interests. [viii]
To end neoliberalism, bringing back state regulation of corporations would be essential. The UNCTAD policy proposal for a “Global New Deal” [ix] points to this, but comes short of recognising that governments in the global South could be, and in many cases have been, captured by domestic elites and elite interests in rich industrialised countries.
IBON International contends that genuinely ending and building alternatives to neoliberalism could only be achieved by putting people at the centre of development. This means, on the one hand, country-level