Neoliberal Encasement Infrastructure: The Case of International Organization Sovereign Immunity

This post is part of our symposium on Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Read the rest of the symposium here. 

Isra Syed –

9780674979529Last month, the Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in Budha Jam v. International Finance Corporation, ruling that, under the International Organization Immunities Act (IOIA), international organizations are no longer subject to absolute judicial immunity in U.S. courts. The case marked a significant victory for the plaintiffs, who are a group of Indian fishing communities suing the International Finance Corporation (IFC) over tortious environmental damage in their communities caused by the IFC-funded Tata Mundra coal plant. However, the Budha Jam decision, which now restricts international organization immunity to the same level of immunity granted to foreign sovereigns, raises a set of questions about equitable transnational governance, brought into sharp relief by Quinn Slobodian’s “market encasement” thesis in Globalists. As per his thesis, global neoliberalism operates not through a theory of pure anti-statism, but rather through reliance on a strong order of supranational governance institutions with the ability to protect private property interests in a manner insulated from democratic feedback (i.e. “markets encased by institutions”).

In a world of encased markets, what would it mean to make organizations like the World Bank and IFC more democratically and locally accountable? And, to what extent is judicial review in U.S. courts a useful path toward such accountability?

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