Change and Continuity at the World Bank

Change and Continuity at the World Bank

Reforming Paradoxes of Economic Development

Peter J. Hammer

This fascinating book examines the World Bank’s capacity for change, illustrating the influence of overlapping political, organizational and epistemic constraints. Through comprehensive historical and economic analysis, Peter J. Hammer illuminates the difficulties faced by recent attempts at reform and demonstrates the ways in which the training and socialization of Bank economists work to define the policy space available for meaningful change.

Chapter 4: The dynamics of epistemic economic change

Peter J. Hammer

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, financial economics and regulation, international economics


If the Bank has some degree of discretion as an International Organization and if that discretion is exercised, in part, by a large staff of neoclassically trained economists, then understanding the nature of economic beliefs and how economic theories change over time is important to understanding the Bank itself. What factors lead to a consensus within a professional discipline? What factors undermine that consensus and lead to different understandings? How much elasticity exists within traditional economics to accommodate new problems and challenges? What forces can lead to the creation of completely new ways of understanding an academic discipline? The Bank has undergone numerous transitions in the past 70 years, with substantial changes in programmatic emphasis and underlying economic theory. Examining these questions through the lens of the philosophy of science can shed light on the Bank’s past, as well as its possible future directions. It is common to see passing references to “paradigm shifts” with reference to development economics and World Bank policies. These claims are most frequently made about the rise and asserted demise of the neoliberalism that animated the so-called Washington Consensus and the 1980s SAPs. A few of these scholars expressly examine the notion of “paradigm shifts” at the Bank in light of the work of Thomas Kuhn. Charles Gore invokes Kuhn in examining what he terms The Rise and Fall of the Washington Consensus as a Paradigm for Developing Countries. For Gore, a paradigm is “a constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and group commitments shared by members of a given community,

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