Reflections on the Washington Consensus: When the World Bank turned to free trade for its transport infrastructure projects

By Sidy Cissokho

The term “Washington Consensus” is normally used to refer to a liberal-leaning set of measures implemented in the late 1980s, primarily aimed at developing countries. However, the use of this expression hampers our understanding of the creation and dissemination of these policies. In examining how the World Bank’s transport infrastructure projects became free-trade-oriented in the 1980s, this paper throws into question our knowledge about these activities, how they spread, and the groups that promoted them. This free trade dimension of the World Bank’s infrastructure projects is not related to any ideological conversion of its employees to neoliberal dogma; rather, it stems from a redefinition of roles within the organization’s daily operations. Moreover, this change was supported not by economists, but by engineers. Based on this example, the article advocates paying more attention to the diversity of liberal policy developments, rather than to their common features.

  • World Bank
  • development
  • Washington Consensus
  • structural adjustments
  • free trade
  • archives
  • infrastructure
  • transport
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