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Anti-WikiLeaks clown car gets crowded, plus the World Bank and more

The shadowy, demonic organization known as WikiLeaks, until the past few days most famous for releasing tens of thousands of Pentagon documents reaffirming the degree to which the US adventure in Afghanistan was, is and will continue to be well and truly fucked, is now in the news for not releasing an even larger trove of US documents dealing with Iraq. A number of scathing, stupid stories like this particularly stupid one are castigating the organization for not doing something that they never said they were going to do.

The origin of the rumor, which was picked up and run as fact by a horde of institutional press outlets, was an item from Wired magazine’s Threat Level blog, the editor of which blames Assange for not following the schedule established by former WikiLeaks employees.

The US government and others have reason to fear WikiLeaks and what the organization represents—although probably not as much as they think they do, given the general docility of Americans—and they’ve enjoyed considerable support from Congress and the institutional press, who enthusiastically disseminated the Pentagon party line that the Afghanistan document release put the lives of US personnel and their supporters in Afghanistan at risk. In fact, Pentagon chief Robert Gates told Congress in August that the exposure of the documents did not compromise any intelligence sources.

Less clear is why writers in alternative press sources such as Mother Jones—named after the famous US radical labor organizer, who would surely applaud and defend WikiLeaks were she alive today—appear to have developed something close to a hatred of the organization, poorly expressed as it was in the particularly stupid story linked above. I only hope that the group survives, figuratively and literally, the combined pressures exerted by the governments and press institutions aligned against it.

Meanwhile, on a not entirely unrelated subject, the World Bank has announced the publication of a new book, modestly entitled “The Day After Tomorrow: A Handbook on the Future of Economic Policy in the Developing World.”

The reason for the new book is that “[t]he 2008-09 global financial crisis shook the ground under the conventional wisdom that had guided mainstream development economics.” The conventional wisdom upon which the bank’s practices were built had been developed by two generations of conventional economists, who generally advocate for large, expensive projects that greatly benefit both the ruling class of a subject country and the mostly western engineering and construction firms that design and build the things. Privatization of national resources is also a prominent theme.

The conventional wisdom having failed, the World Bank has turned to a group of experts to develop a new conventional wisdom, one which probably advocates for large, expensive projects that greatly benefit both the ruling class of a subject country and the mostly western engineering and construction firms that design and build the things, and which prominently features the benefits of privatizing national resources.

I can’t say that with absolute assurance because I haven’t and won’t spend the $35 asking price for the book, but I have my reasons.

The 2008-09 global financial crisis shook the ground under the conventional wisdom that had guided mainstream development economics. Much of what had been held as true for decades is now open to reexamination– from what the role of governments should be in markets to which countries will be the engines of the world’s economy, from what people need to leave poverty to what businesses need to stay competitive.

Development economists look into the future. They do not just ask how things work today, but how a new policy, program, or project would make them work tomorrow. They view the world and history as a learning process–past and present are inputs into thinking about what is coming. It is that appetite for a vision of the future that led the authors of The Day after Tomorrow: A Handbook on the Future of Economic Policy in the Developing World to invite some 40 development economists, most of them from the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network–an epicenter of the profession–to report what they see on the horizon of their technical disciplines and of their geographic areas of specialization.

Epicenter: There’s a fortunate choice of words. The description is to say that the people who developed the policies of the past are now developing the policies of the future; much the same approach that the US is taking to resolve its own economic difficulties, the theory being that the creators of a disaster are best positioned to remediate it. That approach is working out really well for us, so no doubt all the peoples of developing nations are clapping their hands from relief and joy.

Meanwhile, on a not entirely unrelated subject, the privatization of California rolls along, and rolls over the little people. I mentioned a week or two ago that the state, at the behest of the governator, is selling off a bunch of office buildings to private managers to raise a little cash. The state will then lease the buildings back. The private managers will do well from the deal. Taxpayers will get screwed.

When you sell off a bunch of office buildings you also sell off a bunch of employees, specifically the ones who clean and maintain the facilities. Unfortunately no one is buying because those employees get reasonable wages and benefits; the last thing a cost- and profit-conscious landlord wants to do is provide a bunch of peasants with reasonable wages and benefits. So the state is laying those employees off, and the new management won’t be hiring them.

Win-win! Home and abroad, everyone’s a winner this week.

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