Good Government, Courtesy of the World Bank

Good Government, Courtesy of the World Bank

One of the most frequent criticisms of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is that they impose one-size-fits-all solutions on developing countries. For years, skeptics and activists have railed against the "Washington Consensus" that these institutions impose, primarily through their lending conditions but also through expert advice and publications.

Is that charge still fair?  In a new paper, Matt Andrews of Harvard’s Center for International Development looks in detail at recent World Bank projects. He concludes that the Bank has become deeply involved in defining "good governance" for many developing states. "[O]rganizations like the World Bank are increasingly shaping the ideas, opportunities, demand and supply of public sector reform in developing countries," he writes. He also finds that the Bank’s prescriptions are pretty consistent across countries:

Countries are commonly supported in creating governments that are market-friendly, disciplined, and modernized; with specific types of common interventions introducing reforms like privatization, civil service modernization, the creation of autonomous agencies, and more.

At least in the paper, Andrews is agnostic about whether this good governance template is a good thing; many close observers of the Bank will not be.