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Poverty reduction and universal competitiveness

Cammack, Paul (2009) Poverty reduction and universal competitiveness. ISSN 0706-1706

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World Bank poverty reduction strategies papers (PRSP) in the first years of the present century represented a shift from a narrowly conceived neoliberal agenda to a broader one focused on creating a climate for investment and characterized by positive state action to promote competitiveness in product, capital and labour markets. While 'sound macroeconomic policy' remained a bedrock of poverty reduction, PRSPs went far beyond this in order to reshape social relations and the relationship between citizens, markets and the state. This paper argues that in its general policy orientation the World Bank now promotes an agenda shared with other international and multilateral agencies, especially the OECD, focused on building the human capital of workers, expanding employment, and making labour markets ever more competitive. The focus of the paper, therefore, is on the relationship between poverty reduction and the politics of competitiveness. The paper discusses (i) the common ground between the ‘Washington Consensus’, the ‘Post-Washington Consensus’ and the strategy of global proletarianisation spelled out by the World Bank from 1990 onwards; (ii) the parallel OECD/EU programme for restoring the hegemony of capital over labour in the developed world; and (iii) the current conventional wisdom of the international and regional institutions concerned with global economic governance. The conclusion assesses the complementarity and contradictions between poverty reduction strategies and universal competitiveness.

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