Why you should care more about who leads the World Bank

Lant Pritchett is making an impassioned case for the Nigerian candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, rather than Obama’s nominee, Jim Kim. See why Ngozi on the CGD blog and (maybe more important) how Ngozi can still get the Presidency in the Guardian. I admire Kim, but I’m inclined to agree with Lant.

One important bit:

Not every admirable individual is qualified to be head of the World Bank. Kim’s views against economic growth and private investment (detailed in his book, Dying for Growth) are already raising eyebrows in the press and causing concern among world leaders. Political leaders in the UK and Germany must wonder how Kim’s negative views about fiscal austerity and neoliberal structural adjustment apply to Europe.

…Moreover, Kim is a doctor and the narrowness of his expertise is likely to raise concerns among the bank’s big borrowers, given the array of issues a full service development organisation must address. If Kim really is the best-qualified candidate to head the World Bank, countries will want to know why, in months of search, speculation, media discussions, and blog debates, his name was never raised, even by those now endorsing his candidacy.

This is more important than you might think.

Most people underestimate the World Bank. It is the biggest development actor in the world, by a lot. Add up every single NGO in the world and their combined giving, and you might get what the Bank gives in a month. Add up all the countries and all their individual giving direct to poor countries (throwing away the military bits) and you get close. At the same time, with DFID and a handful of others, the bank is the intellectual leader in aid. Where they lead many follow.

Of course, many people overestimate how influential is the President of the Bank. It is a huge and decentralized agency. It does not turn on a dime. And there are overseers and executives and (never forget) interfering donor countries. So a new president’s power is not absolute.

Even so, it makes a big difference. Even a little control over something enormous is still huge. the new president can and will steer the Bank over the course of four or eight years. I feel more confident in Ngozi’s direction.