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Global Governance and the Public Domain: Collective Goods in a 'Post-Washington Consensus' Era

As a consequence of the financial crises of 1997-9, the question of ‘global governance’ appears to have come into its own as an ‘agenda’ for thinking about the rules and norms which underpin the present global order. One of the dominant understandings of the public domain, especially in Asian and Latin American countries, is of its essential (re)vitalisation or utilisation as a mechanism for the provision of a range of public goods crucial to the socioeconomic sustainability of markets. This has found its way into the policy debates currently dominating the agendas of the international financial institutions, couched broadly in the emerging language of the ‘Post-Washington Consensus’.

However, the extent of the compatibility between the processes of reformulating policy strategies appropriate to specific historical-institutional settings and the mainstream of the ‘governance’ debates in the corridors of the international financial institutions is over-stated for at least three reasons. First, the globalisation backlash is likely to prevent the emergence of a settled intellectual consensus of what constitute global public goods. Second, the debates have to date largely been conducted in arenas from which ‘developing countries’ are excluded. Third, the capacities of the states of Asia and Latin America have been seriously eroded by the negative impact of financial crisis. As a result, we argue (a) that the dynamics of multilateral collective action have been altered in important ways under the impact of financial crises in Asia and Latin America, and (b) that the role of national states in Asia and Latin America is concerned less with the provision of public goods than with the minimisation of ‘public bads’. This minimisation of ‘bads’ is, at the end of the twentieth century, an inherent part of the debates about the appropriate role of public authorities, and their relationship with other elements of the state—civil society—market nexus.


Keywords: governance, public domain, public goods, Post-Washington Consensus.