DC, Neoliberalism and the World Bank

Fri, 18 Feb 2000 09:04:32 PST

by David Schwartzman

First some facts about the quality of life in the District:

The health status of many District residents is shocking, with the "misery index" increasing. While life expectancy has been increasing nationally in the last 15 years, it has declined in the District . Life expectancy for DC men is 10 years below the national average, for women 5 years. For Black men in DC, the life expectancy is now 58 years or less, for Black women 72. The life expectancy for Black men in the District is lower than for any nation in this hemisphere except for Haiti. Growing evidence links income inequality and shorter life spans. Comparing DC to other states reveals that DC has the highest income inequality in the nation. DC's ratio of the top fifth to bottom fifth of average income of families with children is 27 to 1, $203,110 to $7,498, compared to the national ratio of 10 to 1. DC's ratio just a decade ago was 16. The middle fifth of family income, averaging $36,918, has not kept up with inflation.

None of these crises has been addressed by our elected government, largely bought and paid for by corporate interests, nor by the Control Board, which has exercised immense powers over our budget and school system. On the contrary, since 1994 over $100 million/year in devastating budget cuts in the social safety net for our children, poor, disabled and elderly have been forced by the Control Board and District government. The Control Board was created by Congress on the pretext of eliminating a large budget deficit. But the real agenda of this unelected body has been to lubricate the wheels of finance capital, by promoting privatization, weakening income security for workers and the poor, increasing economic inequality and the "misery index".

Mayor Tony Williams was the Chief Financial Officer ("CFO") of the unelected Control Board. As CFO he recommended the hurtful budget cuts in the safety net, with the general compliance of our elected District government. Our mainstream media, projected this new arrival to DC, with significant financial backing by individuals and organizations associated with regional corporate interests (the Federal City Council), into the Mayor's office.

The rich continue to grow richer, the poor (and increasingly the "middle class") grow poorer. Instead of "trickle down" economics, we have witnessed an "artesian well" flow of wealth to the top. This is demonstrated by IRS statistics for District tax payers, showing the booming incomes of the wealthy, while low/middle income brackets stagnate or decline. This restructuring of the economy of the Metro DC area is the local application of neoliberal policies of the transnational banks and corporations resulting in growing polarization of rich and poor. Neoliberalism is the theory that the market should be left to function without burdensome regulation or social constraints, including the social safety net, environmental and occupational protection, and labor rights. The World Bank and IMF have led the way in transforming the global economy following the neoliberal agenda.

It is no accident that the World Bank is a sponsor of the Economic Resurgence plan for the District, that a World Bank economist, Darius Mans, with a record of implementing privatization in several developing countries now sits on the Control Board. With a growing lack of affordable housing for most residents, the construction of luxury apartments and the Convention Center is highest on the agenda of real estate interests in the District. If unchallenged by an effective labor community coalition, "economic resurgence" will benefit the wealthy while driving out the working class of the District.

We need more research on the World Bank/IMF connection to the political economy of the District. Not mentioned above are the sizable taxes owed to the District by the World Bank and IMF that remain unpaid because of their tax exempt status. For documentation and more information see "DC in Violation!", on DC Committee of Correspondence