The World Bank’s “Effective State” in East Asia

  • Gerard Greenfield
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 5)


In these turbulent times, the World Bank itself appears to be in transition. For decades the significant role of the state in East Asian economic development posed a serious challenge to the Bank’s free market agenda, prompting a struggle over how to explain East Asian economic ‘miracles’. The outcome was the Bank’s best-seller, The East Asian Miracle, published in 1993. It was presented as a new discovery, and though it continued to be a contentious issue within the Bank, it expressed a reluctant recognition that the state played a role in fostering economic growth. While many saw this as a catalyst for change in the World Bank’s neoliberal agenda, the changes which followed were very gradual, contrasting sharply with the dramatic changes in thinking and policy that the Bank requires of its debtors under “shock therapy” and structural adjustment. Continuing to work within a neoliberal paradigm, the Bank misinterpreted the development experience in East Asia in fundamental ways. However, this is not simply a matter of getting the facts wrong about the East Asian ‘miracles’. The World Bank’s particular (mis)interpretation of how countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong developed largely shapes its lending policies, projects and policy advice in countries such as China, Cambodia, India, Vietnam and the Philippines. For example, as discussed below, the World Bank misinterprets (and misrepresents) the impact of structural adjustment in Hong Kong on working people as a smooth process in which people easily moved from factory jobs to service sector jobs. If we compare this to the Bank’s policy advice on labour flexibility in China, we can see that the same logic which underlies its explanation of the Hong Kong experience now shapes the Bank’s proposals for labour market deregulation and restructuring in China.


Trade Union Migrant Worker Poverty Reduction Corporal Punishment Authoritarian Regime 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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  • Gerard Greenfield

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