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More Winds of Change Against Obama’s World Bank Nominee


As I reported this week, President Obama has appointed global-health expert Jim Yong Kim to be the next president of the World Bank, traditionally America’s choice. But his economic qualifications and questionable commitment to the Bank’s traditionally growth-focused policies have raised the possibility that he may actually be rejected in favor of the candidate put forth by the African Union and ECOWAS, Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This would mean the Obama administration has surrendered, inadvertently or not, the American prerogative to choose the World Bank president. It still remains an unlikely outcome, but the editors of The Economist have now endorsed Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala:

The World Bank is the world’s premier development institution. Its boss needs experience in government, in economics and in finance (it is a bank, after all). He or she should have a broad record in development, too. Ms Okonjo-Iweala has all these attributes, and Colombia’s José Antonio Ocampo has a couple. By contrast Jim Yong Kim, the American public-health professor whom Barack Obama wants to impose on the bank, has at most one. . . .

Ms Okonjo-Iweala is an orthodox economist, which many will hold against her. But if there is one thing the world has discovered about poverty reduction in the past 15 years, it is that development is not something rich countries do to poor ones. It is something poor countries manage for themselves, mainly by the sort of policies that Ms Okonjo-Iweala has pursued with some success in Nigeria.

Mr Kim’s views on development are harder to divine. But what can be gleaned is worrying. In an introduction to a 2000 book called “Dying for Growth”, he wrote that “the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of men and women”, quoted Noam Chomsky and praised Cuba for “prioritising social equity”. Were Mr Kim hoping to lead Occupy Wall Street, such views would be unremarkable. But the purposes of the World Bank, according to its articles of agreement, are “to promote private foreign investment…[and to] encourage international investment for the development of the productive resources of members.” The Bank promotes growth because growth helps the poor. If Mr Kim disagrees, he should stick to medicine.

This comes in addition to the endorsements of the Financial Times and development economist (and admittedly stridently neoliberal and pro-growth) Jeffrey Sachs. As I explained earlier this week, Jim Kim, because of his views, fits in with the Obama administration’s penchant for promoting a post-modern world order — but Okonjo-Iweala is the better way to contribute to a new, meritocratic world.