All Commentary
Saturday, February 1, 1997

Book Review: Faith & Credit: The World Bank’s Secular Empire by Susan George and Fabrizio Sabelli

The World Bank is Inherently Opposed to Economic Freedom and Property Rights

Westview Press • 1994 • 282 pages • $63.50 cloth; $16.95 paperback

Mr. Ewert is the editor of U-Turn, a quarterly publication addressing theological, political, economic, and social issues from a biblical perspective.

Someone once put forth the aphorism: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Presumably if you’re against something and I’m against that same thing, we are allies in a common cause. Believers in limited government and free markets have long criticized the World Bank. It props up corrupt Third World governments and subsidizes the statist policies that keep poor people poor, and plays a reverse Robin-Hood role in transferring resources from middle-class taxpayers in the West to politically connected elites in the Third World. The authors of Faith & Credit: The World Bank’s Secular Empire, Greenpeace board member Susan George and University of Geneva professor Fabrizio Sabelli, are also against the World Bank. In their view, the World Bank funds projects that disrupt the environment, restrict the social programs and inflationary schemes of Third World governments, and promotes downsizing of public employment and bureaucracy. Clearly in this case, the opponent of our opponent is neither our ally nor a friend to freedom.

The authors believe that the market cannot help the poor because it cannot hear their voices. George and Sabelli more or less ignore the amazing cases of market-oriented countries such as Taiwan or South Korea that have moved from poverty to relative wealth in a very short time. Their comment on the free-market success of such countries is: 150 countries cannot become Asian dragons (if only because the planet would collapse). Their answer to Third World poverty is stronger and more interventionist Third World governments. Currency restrictions and artificial exchange rates, heavy state involvement in the economy, and protectionism (the early use of which they believe explains the later economic success of Korea and Taiwan!) are all good. Apparently what the Third World needs is more government control.

Forgive my impatience, but after laboring through many, many tiresome pages of this book I have to ask: Where have these people been for the past 50 years? After failure upon failure of these policies, in country after country, what hope is there that these interventions might still be made to work? Has it not been adequately demonstrated for all to see that there are things called economic laws that operate regardless of one’s desire otherwise? Is reality optional?

This book is another (not particularly interesting) example of the close link between statism’s old guard and its new: Reds (socialists) and Greens (radical environmentalists). Both groups share a hatred of economic freedom. Only the Left’s rationale has changed with time: the Reds argued that capitalism couldn’t lift the poor out of their condition, the Greens believe that capitalism is in fact too efficacious—what we need is not that kind of development, but rather sustainable development.

In the chapter on the World Bank and the environment the authors warn us that the Bank’s future depends on whether or not it recognizes the environment as the inescapable partner in all its development endeavors. This is noble-sounding rhetoric, but what does it mean? Should the environment carry as much, or perhaps more, weight than the needs of the world’s poor? It is clear that the authors see a fundamental clash between people acting to improve their economic condition and the environment.

Is the authors’ critique of the World Bank on behalf of the World’s poor, or on behalf of the environment? This query gets to the schizophrenic heart of the new Left. One has the sneaking suspicion that while much lip service is devoted to helping poor people, it is the latter rationale, an antidevelopment and antihuman philosophy of exalting nature over man, that motivates the New Left.

Free-market advocates unashamedly assert that people have priority over creatures. (I believe the only adequate basis for this premise is that God has created man in His image, and has given him dominion over all other created things.) However, unlike the Left, we see no contradiction between economic freedom and environmental protection. Recognizing and consistently upholding private property rights will both lift the poor from their poverty and protect the environment by making each individual responsible for his piece of the environment (his property) and by protecting him from invasion by others who may seek to pollute or abuse his property.

The World Bank must be abolished. Not because it promotes economic freedom and property rights, but because it is inherently opposed to them.

  • Mr. Ewert is the editor of U-Turn, a quarterly publication addressing theological, political, economic, and social issues from a biblical perspective.