The Pain of Economic Reform

June 16, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


During the 1980s, international lending institutions imposed economic reforms on Third World countries in an attempt to make their economies more efficient. The developing countries—burdened by overwhelming debt and unable to recover from the effects of high energy costs of the 1970s and the international recession of the early '80s—have had little alternative but to implement these often painful austerity measures. Although international lenders point to progress, critics say the reforms may be doing more harm than good, especially in the poorest nations of sub-Saharan Africa.

Go to top


The World Bank does not often conjure up thoughts of scandal. For more than 40 years the international development agency has been quietly assisting Third World nations. Its public voice—in the form of obscurely worded documents churned out by economists—rarely has drawn much public attention.

But now one such document has made the institution the target of scathing criticism. The document, an assessment of the impact of the Bank's lending policies in the 1980s, claims that the economic reforms the Bank and other international lenders have pressured African developing countries to adopt have begun to pay off. In the report's words, “… evidence suggests that reforms and adjustment generally have led to better economic performance in the region.” A close look at the statistics, it states, shows there was stronger agricultural output, export growth, economic output and investment in those African countries that swallowed the painful medicine of austerity in the 1980s than there was in countries that did not.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
International Finance
Regional Political Affairs: Africa