Money and Power: Great Predators in the Political Economy of Development

Bracking, Sarah
Pluto Press, London and New York, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-7453-2011-3, 242 pp.
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Pike, Alexander

At the turn of the century, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed by the world's superpowers with the confident aim of halving poverty by 2015. With the publication of this book nine years later, just after the UN announcement that the number of undernourished people had passed 1 billion, it is clear that development in its current manifestation is not working. Sarah Bracking's Money and Power could not come at a better time, unveiling the inner workings of the political economy of development to explain what is structurally wrong with the system as a whole, preventing the world's ambitious poverty-reduction goals from being achieved.

Bracking's analysis focuses on the political behaviour of what she calls the 'great predators' in this system. These are the unregulated pseudo-public development-finance institutions, or DFIs (such as the World Bank and the IMF), which, in her eyes, are responsible for controlling the markets in which the poorest operate, consequently trapping the economies of the South into a permanent cycle of depression and debt, all to serve the private-sector interests of the developed nations. These powerful 'predators' operate above democracy, moulded to serve the nations that by historical precedent have the money, making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Bracking argues that behind the veil of increased 'aid' contributions and tough policies for poverty reduction by the DFIs, a whole industry of profitable capitalist development in the private sector is operating with this money regardless. With the self-allocated tags of 'development aid', the DFIs' aim is to mislead, portraying a provision of 'concessional' finance to poor countries. In reality, evidence shows that they are conducting venture-capitalist transactions operating like any other private bank, charging high interest rates and pushing through economic reforms to benefit Western neo-liberalism under the guise of benevolence.

The book is written from the 'classic construction of capitalism' viewpoint, proposed by Fernand Braudel. Instead of the conventional view that capitalism is synonymous with the market, with the state positioned antithetically to both, Braudel sees capitalism as absolutely dependent on state power and as hostile to the market. Bracking analyses the manifestations of this power, displaying how neo-liberal countries use the DFIs' conditional development loans to control poor countries' economic policies, therefore opening the door for Western direct investment to come flooding in. Bracking argues that the power structure of the current system is historically, culturally, politically, and racially biased, a fact which is reflected in risk calculations based on investor perceptions, which thus deny development to the countries that need it the most.

Although building the argument that development has categorically failed, Bracking distinguishes her arguments from those of neo-liberal economists and neo-conservatives who claim that development is a waste of time. Instead, Bracking pushes for the democratisation of 'the great predators', bringing the power of these institutions into line, and argues for creating more inclusive market policies, to enable the poorest countries to catch up with the richer ones, rather than being propelled into further desolation as in the current system.

Sarah Bracking's writing style is very accessible, and the structure of the book is helpful to the neophyte economist. Detailed profiles of the 'great predators', along with thorough historical background of the overall development system and the history of neo-liberalism, make the book very comprehensive and comprehensible. There are links throughout to further relevant research material and content, which is ideal for a balanced and rounded understanding of the topic. A section of the book relates to the much-debated topic of aid effectiveness, citing the views of a plethora of authors, culminating in strong comparative analysis, which is a method that the author frequently uses. The development industry is full of abbreviations, which can be overwhelming to say the least, but a useful glossary has been included at the front of the text. Money and Power has been written on the basis of particularly comprehensive research. It teems with numbers and statistics to illustrate the theory. This, along with detailed case studies, based on country-specific contexts and political climates, clearly shows how each country's cog fits into the global development machine.

This book is an important read for anyone studying debt and development in the global South, the global financial institutions, and governance of the global economy. If you are a newcomer to this field, I would recommend reading a few introductory texts to help you get a grasp of the complex global framework analysis that this book offers.

In sum, Money and Power makes a strong contribution to the field of development. This book, although not short on Bracking's opinions, outlines the facts with sound evidence - bringing a breath of fresh air to an academic field where many books are written with few empirical data and as a manifestation of the author's single-minded view. A truly enlightening experience for the reader, this book will take its place as a cornerstone for the comprehensive understanding of the political and structural economy of international development.