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Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY

Why the World Bank won’t end inequality


The World Bank and IMF are holding their annual meeting in Washington DC. Both institutions have made new formal commitments to tackling inequality and the leaders and officials will be busy patting themselves on the back. They want to get approval for a new progressive image – while keeping intact an agenda for more of the same.

Others have also made the journey to Washington. I am here with activists from around the world. We want to shake these institutions out of their complacency and remind the world of the human cost of the gap between what they say and what they actually still do.

Outside the halls of power, where the meetings run until 15 October, we will be holding some events of our own. As wealthy attendees of the meeting dine in the city’s most elegant restaurants, we will be staging a ‘People’s Luncheon,’ sharing food with all comers in Murrow Park, just outside the World Bank and IMF buildings.

It’s taken 50 years for the Washington DC institutions to admit that neoliberalism is increasing inequality

Come night fall, we will light 99 candles to symbolize the 99% of the world who have less wealth combined than the 1%; we will share ideas for real, people-led solutions to inequality such as strengthened workers’ rights and public services; and present an open letter, signed by 133 organizations (that between them represent millions), calling for an irrevocable and public break with the broken economic model of neoliberalism.

It shouldn’t be so hard to do. After years of denial, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, is now saying that inequality is rising, and that it is damaging and dangerous. The IMF’s own research papers now acknowledge that neoliberalism has helped to drive it.

You might think that we’d be delighted at this admission. After all, these institutions, and the discredited Washington Consensus that they embody, have played a central role in creating a hyper-unequal world. When I travel from my home in the Philippines I see brutal and worsening inequality in communities everywhere.

But this change in rhetoric took too long. More important still is that hundreds of millions of ordinary people’s lives continue to be scarred as the Washington DC institutions persist in driving inequality-increasing policies.

The World Bank and IMF want to be seen as having changed. But behind the rebranding and glossy photos, they want to keep doing what they do. That means investing in the corporation leading the privatization of primary schools in Liberia, pressing for cuts in Tunisia and Zambia that will deny mothers basic services and keeping wages low in Egypt, leaving people working their way into poverty.

It means pushing policies that are imposing drastic cuts to child-benefit programmes in Mongolia and eroding collective bargaining rights in Morocco. It means advocating for tax increases that will be borne by the poorest in Bangladesh, funding investments that are implicated in deadly land grabs in Honduras and imposing brutal austerity in Mediterranean Europe.

The World Bank and IMF want to be seen as having changed. But behind the rebranding and glossy photos, they want to keep doing what they do

This must end. It’s taken 50 years for the Washington DC institutions to admit that neoliberalism is increasing inequality. We are not going to give them another 50 years to act. We can’t rely on the rebranded IMF and World Bank, or on governments’ promises: The solutions to the crisis must come from those on the frontlines of inequality.

Campaigners around the world are coming together. They include artists such as Kenyan hip hop giant Octopizzo, veteran campaigners like anti-Apartheid leader Jay Naidoo, and vibrant new social movements, from South Africa’s Fees Must Fall to Gambia Has Decided to the young people who drove the Tunisian revolution.

Our campaign – the Fight Inequality Alliance – is backed by Zambian reggae legend Maiko Zulu, who has written ‘Economic Slavery’ in support of our cause.

We know that we can shift the agenda only by building power together. The only way to realize a just and more equal world is to build an unstoppable people-powered movement across the globe.

Lidy Nacpil is the co-founder of the Fight Inequality Alliance, She has worked as a local, national, and international organizer and campaigner on many issues: human rights, peace, women’s rights, economic justice, sustainable development, debt and public finance, tax justice, climate justice, and the transformation of energy systems.


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