On neoliberalism

Robert Johnson writes: Re. “The once-charming Gillard hops aboard the decaying bandwagon of neoliberalism” (Tuesday)

Helen Razer has admirably called out the continuing anachronism of neoliberal multilateralism, in this case the global advocacy of improvements in access to education on the basis of it being “economically efficient”.

Throughout much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the World Bank’s rationale of “user pays” had seen it impose upon so many African and other countries the introduction of school fees as a condition of its assistance (that is, included within its loan conditions). Later, the Bank did a 180-degree backflip when it concluded that, as education is an “efficient” way of skilling a productive workforce, fees must be abolished. Education of children went from being a cost to an investment. The cost to the state was less than the benefit to the by that time often largely privatised economy. Enormous damage had been done to the budgetary planning of so many developing country governments.

Dependence upon the Bank’s resources for education has also put major multilateral co-operators, such as UNICEF, at odds with the competing and more internationally formalised human rights system, for which access to free education is a fundamental human right. Formally, the World Bank and human rights apparently continue to share no common ground, but the UN System and human rights do, certainly in principle and hopefully often in practice.

One exemplary global advocate in this area was the UN’s first ‘special rapporteur’ on the right to education, the Yugoslavian (Zagreb, Croatia) global education rights’ activist Katarina Tomasevski, who paid a heavy price for her relentless pursuit of the World Bank on this matter, and in pushing states to ensure free (at least primary) schooling. She died in 2006 at 53, two years after her appointment period ended.

A few years ago (2010), I wrote about this disjunction between (international) human rights and (global) economic efficiency in education policy. The latter, obviously, has a bottom line of sacrificing children who are “inefficient” to educate, including when domestic “customary” circumstances are taken into account. The two main international instruments asserting education as a right are the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That is, a country that has ratified even just one of those accepts the duty to ensure access to education for all children. Fortunately, only one country in the world has ratified neither. It is the largest contributor to and continues to appoint the chief of the World Bank and has recently been slashing funding to the UN, including UNICEF, for the economic and social (as distinct from civil and political) human rights that it repudiates, in areas such as child protection, family planning and food security.

As usual, Helen, a great article.

On literal wage theft

Will writes:  Re. “Literal wage theft: employers force migrant workers to return their wages” Wednesday

How about this for a simple solution? The Fair Work Ombudsman should be empowered to employ exploited migrant worker whistleblowers for the remaining duration of their studies as workplace inspectors and workplace rights educators, paid for from fines imposed on law-breaking employers.