Who Will Really Head the World Bank?

Last week (or whenever) I wrote the praises of Dr. Kim, now head of Dartmouth, who is slated to be Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the World Bank after Robert Zoellick steps down in June. While it’s a given that the Americans will have their way, this has not stopped the rest of the world from proposing its own candidates.

The Economist, for those living in a box, is a (European) right leaning weekly news magazine. Inexplicably, I have been given a free online subscription. Despite occasionally receiving emails from its editors that this subscription has been given to me in error, I continue to have full access to the magazine (and its audio component) every week. I don’t complain.

This week’s included an article on Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, present Nigerian finance minister, and former Managing Director of the Bank (one of many), appointed by Zoellick himself. Graduating magna cum laude from Harvard and later pursuing her PhD in regional development at MIT, she seems suited to the task.

The Economist (and now also the Financial Times) believes Kim to be a substandard nominee, noting his lack of experience in development economics and economics in general. They also note his lack of experience at the Bank and not so subtly malign his work at Partners in Health as “charity work.” Interestingly, they overlook his experience on the HIV/AIDS commission at the WHO, an organization that is hardly charitable.

Worse yet, they dig in to Dr. Kim’s past, noting that he quoted radical academic Noam Chomsky in a University address and his praise of Cuba’s health care system, painting him as some sort of communist lefty, as if to say that providing cheap and effective health care is a bad thing. Certainly, the United States could stand to learn a lot from Cuba’s system.

It’s almost as if the Economist stole from the playbook of the Republican Party during the 2008 presidential election. I would think that his having given former Pres. George H.W. Bush an honorary degree at Dartmouth would erase such suspicions.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not a bad candidate. Her experience at the Bank and her status as one of a few respected members of the horribly corrupt Nigerian government make her suited to the role. It is also not surprising that colleagues at the Bank have come to call for her appointment. However, it could be that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s connections to the Zoellick/Wolfowitz Bank may be that which makes her a less than desirable candidate. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala could be an entrenched contintuation of a heavy handed Bank aligned with US financial interests, rather than an advocate of truly human development.

Certainly, the Americans will win, as they always do in matters pertaining to the Bank. However, we could have done much worse than Kim. My personal opinion, though a person who has limited experience with or at the Bank (read: none) is that the head of the Bank is a diplomatic and managerial position. The head of the Bank may bring vision and choose those who may develop strategy, but does not develop strategy. Dr. I assume that Kim, who clearly has laudable intentions will choose a staff which will address seemingly ingnorable problems such as world wide poverty and inacceible health care. Though I would like to see the Bank leadership go to a non-American candidate, my vote, at this time, is for Mr. Kim.

Go, cosmic rapper.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

One response to “Who Will Really Head the World Bank?”

  1. Ferunando-desu says :

    Do you stll believe all what the “Financial Times” and “The economist” say? That’s like reading bbc a few years ago when they say Vasco da Gama and the portuguese were to be blamed by all the colonial plundering that happened in India. I bet that is like the “humanitarian” and “free trade” Opium Wars made to fuck up the chinese.

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