John Williamson has a nice account of his relationship to the WC (his illegitimate child according to his daughter) in the Growth Commission's new blog. Even since he christened the intellectual consensus of the late 1980s, Williamson has suffered from being identified with certain prescriptions that were neither in the original WC nor of his own liking. In particular, he has never been an advocate of capital-account liberalization, has always favored intermediate exchange-rate regimes, and has had a pragmatic approach to privatization rather than a radical one.
In fact, if John had not been the author of the WC, I suspect he would have been seen as one of the moderates on the developmental policy debates of our time, rather than as the proponent of a radical free-market approach. I have never forgotten that when the Institute for International Economics was considering whether to publish my Has Globalization Too Far? (viewed by many as heretical at the time) John stood up and said he found nothing too crazy in it (he meant that as a compliment, I think).
But it is a fact that his creation took an independent life of its own, and therefore became a legitimate target for critics like myself for what it came to represent. In my own writings I have always tried not to implicate John himself directly with these ideas. I hope John considers that I have succeeded.
On the substantive issues therefore, there is much less disagreement between John and I than people often imagine. Here is a possible one:
Several elements of my version of the Washington consensus were directed at providing market-oriented incentives: financial liberalization, trade liberalization (again), deregulation, and privatization. Dani Rodrik would, I think, argue that one can advocate the end without endorsing the particular means that I identified. In principle he may be right, but I find it difficult to envisage a market-oriented system in which loans are given to those endorsed by the state, imports require a quota, entry is limited to those who get approval, and the state is itself a competitor. It seems to me that once one joins him in recognizing a need for market-oriented incentives then one is pretty much committed to endorsing the means that I identified.
I would of course ask John to look at China or Vietnam before he concludes that market-oriented incentives preclude the heterodox arrangements he mentions in this paragraph.
But I do think John has a point when he criticizes me (and Stiglitz, who can of course speak for himself) for getting hung up on some of the details and not emphasizing the real big news in the WC:
The Washington consensus was not right wing in the sense that it advocated policies that would have jeopardized the interests of the poor. If it is now regarded in the way that many people appear to do then it inevitably will be a far more political manifesto than was intended. But that is no excuse for denying that the original consensus recognized a profound change in views of what was calculated to promote development. The irony is that critics like Stiglitz and Rodrik agree with the change of views but, for whatever reason, deny any change.
Of course, in my defense I can say that I have written a lot about how it is good that market incentives have come front and center in thinking about development (see here for example). I can also complain that many renditions of my own views treat me as throwing out the market-incentives baby with the WC bath water. But then I would sound like John, wouldn't I.
Which is why I can really commiserate with him.