Critics of the World Bank have variously attributed its proclaimed commitment to poverty reduction to empty rhetoric, hypocrisy, incompetence, confusion, or overload in the absence of a coherent agenda. This article argues that the commitment is genuine, but that it is not a first order goal: poverty reduction is an intended consequence of its principal objective, the transformation of social and governmental relations and institutions in the developing world in order to generalize and facilitate capitalist accumulation on a global scale, and build capitalist hegemony through the promotion of tightly controlled forms of 'participation' and 'ownership'. This objective has been pursued consistently since the mid-1990s, with Wolfensohn as Director and Stiglitz while Chief Economist playing leading roles. It has been reflected in particular in the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative, the Comprehensive Development Framework, and PRSPs (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers) as means of governing low-income countries. Once the character of the project is understood, its limitations and contradictions become apparent, but at the same time many of the criticisms advanced are seen to underestimate its logic and coherence, and proposals for reform arising from them are shown to be naïve.
What the World Bank Means by Poverty Reduction presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 18 pp.