An Account of the Coerciveness of Loan Conditionality

My earlier discussion of Hassoun’s view of the coerciveness of loan conditionality aimed to show that a new account of coercion is needed, namely, an account that takes into account the motivation of the person that is purported to be coerced.  By way of starting to develop (this is all very tentative!) a view of coercion that takes this into account, consider two examples.

Conversion 1 (C1):

S is opposed to organized religion and has committed to not associating with organized religions of any kind.  S is starving and desperate for food.  S bumps into Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa, says, “I will give you food, if you convert to Catholicism.”  S consents to the conversion.

Conversion 2 (C2):

S has always wanted to become a Catholic.  S decides to carry out this plan and walks over to Mother Teresa’s mission.  S is also starving and desperate for food.  Mother Teresa, says, “I will give you food, if you convert to Catholicism.”  S consents to the conversion.

In assessing whether coercion occurs in either of these cases, we need to take into account S’s motivation for consenting to the conversion.  Two factors are at play in S’s motivation for consenting to the conversion in C1.  First, is Mother Teresa’s offer.  She states, “I will give you food, if you convert to Catholicism.”  If Mother Teresa had not offered to give S food for S’s conversion, then S would not have consented to the conversion.  Second, is S’s desire.  S has the rational desire not to starve.  Together these two things motivate S’s consent to conversion in C1.

In order to determine whether S’s consent is genuine, we must consider both of S’s underlying motivations for accepting the offer that Mother Teresa makes.  I think, the second factor described above – the desire – is relevant to our assessment of whether S’s consent is genuine.  In C1, S consents to Mother Teresa’s offer not because of her own plan to convert to Catholicism.  S consents to Mother Teresa’s offer because of her desire not to starve.  The desire not to starve is certainly a rational one (and as such is an expression of S’s rationality).  It is not, however, an expression of S’s autonomy.  As Hassoun suggests autonomy is not only the ability to reason (or to be rational) but it also involves the capacity to form and to carry out significant plans.  Not starving is not a significant plan.  As such, the desire not to starve is not an expression of S’s autonomy.  For these reasons, in C1, S does not genuinely consent to Mother Teresa’s offer.

In contrast, consider S’s consent to conversion in C2.  In this case, S does not accept Mother Teresa’s offer because of her rational desire to avoid starvation.  In this case, S accepts Mother Teresa’s offer because of her own significant plans and commitments to convert to Catholicism.  As such, S’s consent to the conversion is an expression of S’s autonomy.  This is why, in C2, S’s consent is not coerced by Mother Teresa.

From this discussion we can, tentatively, derive an account of genuine consent:

X’s consent (or choice) to ϕ is genuine if and only if X consents to ϕ because of X’s significant plans and aims.

Establishing that S’s consent is not genuine is not sufficient to establish that S’s consent is coerced, however.  For example, if in C1, S takes a mind altering drug of her own volition and then, because of hallucination induced beliefs, comes to desire converting to Catholicism and actively finds and convinces someone to covert her, then S’s choice would not be genuine but it also would not be coerced by the person who converts her.  For X’s consent to be coerced, it must be forced by someone.  The first factor described above – the offer – establishes that Mother Teresa coerced S in C1.   In making an offer to S, Mother Teresa does something to S.  She motivates S to act as she does.  S would not have acted as she did, but for Mother Teresa’s offer.  S’s desire not to starve would not in itself have motivated S to convert.  S satisfies her desire not to starve by converting because Mother Teresa made the offer she did.  It is for this reason that Mother Teresa can be said to coerce S’s consent.  In contrast, in C2, S’s consent is genuine and is not coerced by Mother Teresa.  S would have converted to Catholicism, even if Mother Teresa had simply asked a question (for example, “Would you like to convert to Catholicism”).  Indeed, S would have attempted to convert even if Mother Teresa had said nothing at all.

This suggests a model of coercion:

X’s consent (or choice) to ϕ is coerced by Y if and only if X would not have ϕ‘d but for Y’s doing φ to X.

Genuine consent and coercion are both parts of a two step view of coercion.  Before one can establish that S is coerced, one must first determine whether S’s consent is genuine.  If it is established that S’s consent is not genuine, only then are we in a position to consider whether S’s consent was coerced.  I think, together these two factors,  genuine consent and coercion, establish in C1 that not only is S’s consent not genuine but also that it is forced by Mother Teresa.

Return now to loan conditionality.  Whether loan conditions are coercively imposed by the IMF and the World Bank on a borrowing country will depend on whether the country’s consent is closest in its description to C1 or C2.

Imagine that a country is undergoing a period of economic hardship and, as a result, famine.  It approaches the IMF and the World Bank for a loan.  Imagine also that this country has historically been and is currently and explicitly socialist in its political orientation.  They have publically owned services and industries for health, water, electricity and transportation (e.g., train and airplane).  If this sort of country accepts IMF and World Bank conditions that require privatization of its public enterprises, then, given its explicit and historical commitment to socialism, we have good reason to think that implementation of such policies is not genuinely consented to.  The country implements such polices not because it has plans of converting to neoliberalism but, rather, because of its rational desire to avoid famine and economic catastrophe.  It also implements such policies because of the offer made by the IMF and the World Bank (“We will lend you the money, if you privatize”).  Without such an offer on the table, the country would not have suddenly decided to implement neoliberal policies as a way of overcoming famine.  Consent in this case, like that of C1, it is not expressive of X’s citizens’ collective aims and plans and it is forced by the IMF and the World Bank’s offer.

Whether this sort of description is true of any particular country is something that will have to be established on a case-by-case basis.  It is my suspicion that in many cases, genuine consent is lacking and that the consent of many countries is forced by the IMF and World Bank in the way described above.

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Featured Philosop-her: Nicole Hassoun « Political Philosop-her

  2. Pingback: Responding to Hassoun on Coercion « Political Philosop-her

  3. Pingback: Featured Philosop-her: Sarah Goff « Political Philosop-her

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