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Saturday Feature
Book Review
Washington Consensus: How And Why It Failed The Poor
Mahmud Rashid

          First of all, I consider it a matter of honour to be called upon to review a book written by so distinguished a personality as Mr A. K. N Ahmed. The book is devoted to globalization and related issues which are being promoted by the western countries, the United States in particular. The process -- popularly described as the Washington Consensus -- is advocated and sought to be implemented, worldwide, through the mainly US led Brettonwood institutions - the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Mr Ahmed was particularly suited to write such a book because he has had a career spanning several decades when he worked at the helm of the highest financial institutions of Pakistan and Bangladesh and also at high level of the international financial institutions which have been the subjects of appropriate criticisms in his excellent and revealing publication. He was the Executive Director of the State Bank of Pakistan, Chairman and Managing Director of the Sonali Bank and the Governor of Bangladesh Bank. He worked in the World Bank and the IMF as an adviser and as an ambassador of Bangladesh to Japan and South Korea in the mid eighties. He is also a senior fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), a fellow as well of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), institutes of bankers in Pakistan and Bangladesh and emeritus fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM). Currently, Mr Ahmed lives in Washington DC and spends his time on reading, writing, traveling and in keeping in touch with Bangladesh.
The book is a collection of essays that the writer penned at different times and had them published in local newspapers and journals. But collated together, they form an integrated treatise on the phenomenon of globalization, what it has amounted to, practically, for the poor countries or how the poor countries are getting further marginalized from having to swallow the bitter antidotes of a globalization process prescribed by western countries and the US specially. The Washington Consensus as the writer explains in his book has mainly four key elements : free trade, free market, democracy and development. But whether these goals are being actually promoted , or promoted at all, are questions that have been raised very expertly by the writer giving his own rather disappointed views about the globalization process. There have been many critiques of globalization in recent years and this is understandable considering that it has been the most pervasive idea of economic integration to be advanced in modern times. The distinction of the publication, under review, is that it has been written by a truly specialist person in the field with his inside view of the process which is proving to be a bane for most of the developing countries or the poorest ones in whose interests the same is, ironically, advocated.
Globalisation is meant to carry the benefits of free trade, free market economy, democracy and development to all corners of the world. But in each area there is to be found only hypocrisies and betrayals and hardly the practice of the lofty goals of globalization preached by the US and some other western countries. Mr Ahmed analyses leaf by leaf the double-standards practiced by the US itself in the area of free trade by giving subsidies to its agro-producers and exporters whereas it insists that poor countries should reduce such subsidies. He writes on the mockery of exporting democracy or democratic ideals when the CIA is seen as dismantling fairly and democratically elected governments to be replaced by tyrannical regimes whose only claims to acceptability are their toeing the line of the US. He writes illuminatingly to expose the many different ways in which the US government provides subsidies and intervenes in the market that renders the claim of a fully free market in operation in that country a distorted one. And finally, he questions whether the developmental model advocated under the Washington Consensus is a panacea that all countries need to emulate or adopt.
He finds this developmental model not delivering up to expectation when there are other developmental models-- in Europe and elsewhere - that seem to be delivering greater to the greatest number in their population in sharp contrast to the US. Mr Ahmed, therefore, asks with a lot of wit whether there is any merit in the policy that one size should fit all.
The book is a must read, I believe, for all stakeholders concerned about globalization or its fall-out on the poor. Journalists, businesses, NGOs, government policy makers and all others can add to their knowledge of the highly publicised global theory --globalization-- and its effects which are sweeping the world by reading Mr Ahmed's small but very informative, well researched and commented book on the phenomenon.

The reviewer is a senior banker working in a private bank of
foreign origin. The book is
published by Shahitya Prakash, Purana Paltan, Dhaka


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