Structural adjustment programmes have fundamentally
affected the life chances of hundreds of millions of people in Third World countries over
the past several decades. With the collapse of communism, they have begun to assume a
central role in economic and social policy-making in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
Union as well. It is therefore impossible to discuss the three principal areas of concern
of the World Summit for Social Development poverty, unemployment and social
disintegration in the 1990s without reference to the current debate on the role of
structural adjustment in worsening or alleviating these problems.
The purpose of this paper is to provide background for the
debate. After considering what "adjustment" means, in general terms, the paper
will highlight different approaches to adjustment problems. Then it will focus on the
macro-social and macro-political effects of the particular form of structural adjustment
based upon promotion of radical free-market restructuring which gained
currency in conjunction with the debt crisis of the 1980s. And it will close with a series
of suggestions for rethinking adjustment policy in the 1990s.