The Washington Consensus is a set of 10 economic policy prescriptions considered to constitute 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. It was coined in 1989 by English economist John Williamson. 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.
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- The Washington doctrine was everywhere greeted by ideological cheerleaders: from the profiteers of the ‘Irish miracle’ (the property-bubble boom of the ‘Celtic tiger’) to the doctrinaire ultra-capitalists of former Communist Europe. Even ‘old Europeans’ were swept up in the wake. The EU’s free-market project—the so-called ‘Lisbon agenda’; the enthusiastic privatization plans of the French and German governments: all bore witness to what its French critics described as the new ‘pensée unique’.
Today there has been a partial awakening. To avert national bankruptcies and wholesale banking collapse, governments and central bankers have performed remarkable policy reversals, liberally dispersing public money in pursuit of economic stability and taking failed companies into public control without a second thought. A striking number of free market economists, worshippers at the feet of Milton Friedman and his Chicago colleagues, have lined up to don sackcloth and ashes and swear allegiance to the memory of John Maynard Keynes.
This is all very gratifying. But it hardly constitutes an intellectual revolution. Quite the contrary: as the response of the Obama administration suggests, the reversion to Keynesian economics is but a tactical retreat. Much the same may be said of New Labour, as committed as ever to the private sector in general and the London financial markets in particular. To be sure, one effect of the crisis has been to dampen the ardor of continental Europeans for the ‘Anglo-American model’; but the chief beneficiaries have been those same center-right parties once so keen to emulate Washington.
- Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (2010), Introduction
- What I would agree with is that the Washington Consensus, whatever you want to call it, got a little too comfortable with, they’re looking at GDP numbers, and they’re looking at the internet, and everything is looking pretty great; and particularly after the Cold War, Jim, after what you guys engineered, you have this period of great smugness on the part of America and American elites, thinking, ‘We got this all figured out.’ Remember there were books coming out that it’s the end of history.