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The tweet of the week (on the WB presidency, of course) - Chris Blattman

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The tweet of the week (on the WB presidency, of course)

From @JustinSandefur:

#WB race = strange bedfellows: free-market economists 4 3rd world democracy vs pub health humanitarians 4 US imperialism?

That captures it precisely. I’ve been deeply discouraged by the rampant tribalism in the debate.

Yes the public health people like Kim for substantive reasons: they would like to see the Bank focus more on health (not always addressing whether it makes sense for the Bank’s mission). And yes the economists have substantive reasons as well: they think Banks are better run by people familiar with banking.

Even so, I can’t help but feel that identity has crowded out substance.

The unfortunate thing: substantive arguments also miss the point. The Bank’s long run mission–whether it’s health or finance, or decided by “humane” or “financial” development people–is not served by the system of appointment by US Presidential fiat. Don’t let your short term interests get in the way of your long term ones.

Kim is smart and qualified, and there are many good reasons not to have a business-as-usual Bank President, even one in health. But if you find yourself supporting his candidacy on such substantive grounds: congratulations, you have successfully succumbed to Obama’s strategy for maintaining imperial control of one the world’s most influential institutions.

A sympathetic and noble candidate is not a coincidence. It is a red herring. It’s been in the sun for a few weeks, however, and it is starting to stink even to those who didn’t smell it at first. It’s time to throw it out.

25 Responses

  1. @ Michael: indeed, they would not put their money with a leader that is not form OECD: look at the FAO, that has enormously struggled to get funding, with everybody claiming they did not fund for reasons of leadership. FAO getting a very bad press, while UNICEF under Ann Veneman did quite well, if only financially.

  2. I said it before, I am all in favour of a meritocratic process. However, I have never heard of an intergovernmental process being so. The discussion now singles out on the WB, but look e.g. on Mrs Ashton, Mr. Bin Ki Moon, and al the others. We should now take the discussion further in a realistic way on how to guarantee a good president to the WB. (Meanwhile, very recently we had worse presidents to lead the WB than what we could expect from the latest canddates).

    Intergovernmental processes are (up to now) not about getting the best person, but about finding a person that is acceptable to ” enough” parties. Notice the lack of “economic” credentials in what we look for.

    On the WB-presidency, the discussion we are having here has served a purpose: the person must be good enough to guarantee that nobody breaks ranks in the winning coalition. When there is reasonable doubt that countries would break ranks from the winning coalition, than the lead country, the US in this case, will have to make compromises. if there is sufficient civil society pressure, this could be on substance. If not, it can be a promise to help the country to get elected to the security council, or giving the Ambassador to the US a brand new piano, or concert tickets.

    Within the World Bank, writing a meaningful TOR for the top job would at least create a bottom line. Most of the time the TOR of the top job is extremely vague in international institutions. Writing a more beefed up version, would refrain countries to propose sham candidates. So a minimum capacity would be required, diminishing the leeway for haggling.

  3. Is anyone even thinking that it’s *possible* that the WB would be run by someone not from the OECD? Why would they put money into it if they don’t have at least veto power over its prospects?

    This puts aside the point that the Econ Tribe shouldn’t be allowed near sharp objects, much less institutional leadership.

  4. I still find it difficult to believe this narrative that Jim Kim, represents some kind of deviation from the status quo, and Ngozi, simply by virtue of her experience in the system and where she gets her support is not.

    I have to say, the fact that this is the general feeling in the development community distresses me because it means we are all simply paying lip service to this notion that the world’s poor, who the bank is set up to serve, deserve to be listened to.

    Essentially, the conclusion here seems to be that, another development expert, by simple virtue of their different disciplinary background is a better judge of the needs of the world’s poor than someone who has lived that poverty and tackled it as a government and World Bank official.

    The status quo is that the world’s poor are not included in decisions about their development and given the general sentiment I perceive here, that status quo is likely to remain as such with popular support from the international development community, despite their platitudes.

  5. It’s a great tweet. What’s been shocking about the process is not that the US will probably choose the next WB president, or that Obama actually selected a candidate with extensive development experience (as pointed out by Sachs, something severely lacking in past candidates), or that many people are supportive of Ngozi’s impressive credentials instead. What is surprising to me is how virulently ideological the attacks against Jim Kim have been, because he’s not a “classic” choice. How could Dr. Kim, in this day and age, be pillaged for seeming anti-capitalist- simply for wanting inclusive growth and good health systems? It has been an interesting case study of neoliberals- formerly the big kids at the playground- duking it out with the new kids, the sustainable development folks. Everyone wants a fair process, and for the candidates to be judged by their merits. What’s surprising to me is how unfair the debate has been thus far. Shameless plug: I cover more of this here:

  6. So, Michael. No one is suggesting the World Bank become the Health Bank! The World Bank works on issues around national development (as Lant Pritchett termed it yesterday), which also includes human development (not the dreaded humane development!). Can we agree on that?
    Can we also agree the governance process of many multilateral institutions is terrible, often corrupt (calling WHO-AFRO!), hardly democratic or transparent. Reform in this regard at the Bank would be good.
    However, what Michael would like to do is short-circuit any process about reform. He gets far too categorical for me about what the Bank is, what training the President must have. In his mind, a person like Jim doesn’t “fit” the Bank as he conceives it, has the wrong kind of training and experience.
    I worry that this version of reform seeks to replace national hegemony with one of profession, making only PhDs in economics (or if you’re digging around the bottom of the barrel, MBAs) the only suitable class of people to take the helm.
    This is something that requires discussion at the very least. Management and leadership skills are not synonymous with technical ones. Simply saying OK, let’s just do it my way if you don’t have a better idea–isn’t a deliberative, democratic process, however much it might make sense to him.
    I take institutional reform very seriously.
    As outsiders, AIDS activists literally “stormed the NIH” back in 1990, and we did the same at the FDA, to get the voices of ordinary people reflected in NIH and FDA policy making. 20 years later, lay persons are well integrated into NIH and FDA’s work, and colleagues and I have participated in grant reviews, on clinical trial protocol development teams, policy committees of the institutes. In 1992, we passed a bill through the US Congress, which was signed by President Clinton and wrested control of the AIDS program away from the director of a single institute and established a merit-based search for a trans-NIH chief for AIDS research.
    A more democratic, responsive World Bank to me means getting voices of consumers, those affected by the Bank’s policies to the table. It means that disciplines other than economics that have relevance for national/human development must be at the table as well. It means setting up real systems of accountability for the Bank’s work. Are you willing to go that far? If so, I’m on board.
    I’d be a lot more comfortable with what Bill, Lant and others have said about the need for reform if I didn’t see it as a smokescreen for installing another set of elites at the helm of the Bank. The reaction to Jim has been entirely too clubby and snide–I can practically hear people saying: “well, Dr. Kim isn’t our sort of person, he went to Harvard, but he didn’t study with us, he doesn’t think like we do.”
    No one has compared any of the other two candidates to Sarah Palin, a B-string shortstop, or a doddering Mother Teresa, called any of them an embarrassment. If it matters how Jim gets to the post, it matters how Ngozi gets there too–the absolute denigration of the man by some has been unprofessional, uncalled for and unhelpful. It shows contempt and scorn for any kind of thinking but their own.
    The Bank needs change, in the procedures for the election for the presidency, but deeper down into its systems of governance and decision-making. It also needs people who can bring a critical eye to bear on its work, not reinforce the influence of a narrow set of experts, so self-satisfied that they feel free to trash a man who has devoted his life to the poor.

  7. Thanks for this, it’s encapsulates most of what I feel. What I see is the Obama Administration putting up what it thought was the compromise candidate, the best possible person who could be nominated without expending considerable political capital. Whether or not that is morally right or in the long-term interests of the bank is worthy of debate (obviously). The default _is_ the status quo, a Wolfowitz, McNamara, or Summers, and this represents a shift from it. I think the more useful question is whether it marks a compromise that allows the processes to move towards international governance, or is simply a foil to prevent it indefinitely. I feel like the second is an unstated assumption for many, particularly those who feel their tribal candidate/economist has been frozen out.

    Like almost everyone, I feel that the process is untenable. But in this particular nomination, I don’t think that matters in any substantive sense.

    I’m going to make what I think is the not unreasonable assumption that Kim will be president of the World Bank. The Obama Administration will be unwilling to concede a major loss of face and what will almost certainly be spun by domestic critics as a loss of power and interest. As Laura Seay said, this isn’t Harriet Miers, and Obama doesn’t have the ability to concede to merely domestic critics. Europe has no interest in facilitating this. While there are many people keeping a straight face and talking about what’s ‘right’, including in this thread, there is much less talk about what is possible or likely.

    I think two questions are in order. Are critics of Kim making it more or less likely that the US will concede the _next_ presidency to an open international process? And are critics of Kim making it more or less likely that he will be able to achieve substantive reform within the World Bank? To the first, I’m not sure, but unless this question is answered, I think the entire debate is moot. To the second, I feel like his ability to reform has been substantially hampered, as he will have to spend considerable time establishing himself as a sufficiently traditional leader of the Bank, under siege from an army of critics. This I think is a bad thing, but the damage is done.

  8. Further complicating the “substance versus process” camps is that the selection of Kim by the board would not necessarily signal continuing U.S. imperialism in the Bank. The board can seriously consider both candidates and still select Kim. The fact that this outcome remains a possibility implies the debate about substance is equally important to that of process. I just don’t see a way for the process camp to be happy, unless Ngozi is selected. And I think that ignoring the merits of each nominee in favor of supporting Ngozi, simply because of the process, is just as ill conceived as supporting Kim just because he is the U.S. nominee. Is selecting Ngozi the only possible outcome in a hypothetically merit-based selection process with greater participation? Was the U.S. not supposed to nominate anyone?

    I think the reason both “substance and process” camps are in a yelling match is that the nominees don’t clearly advance the interests of the stakeholders who nominated them in the first place: the U.S. selection, Kim, is arguably less wedded to the status quo within the Bank (creating an opportunity, though not a guarantee, for more substantive changes) while Ngozi, because of her experience, is more of a Bank insider and likely to support the status quo (suggested by former and current staff members’ public support of her candidacy). Hence the conundrum critics of the Bank face right now- argue against the process, you’re automatically a Ngozi (or any ‘other’) supporter. Argue for Kim based on merit and suddenly you support US imperialism. Neither is fair. Of course, you can argue for Ngozi on both counts and win, right? But really, is this such a bad position to be in? In the end, the debate over merits suggests that either Kim or Ngozi would be an improvement over previous selections.

  9. I think Jonathan’s question is a good one: what is the absolute worst case scenario if Dr. Kim is elected?

    If Dr. Kim is elected, the Bank’s clients might not see the Bank as legitimate. If they don’t see the Bank as legitimate (if they see it as a sort of outmoded, neo-colonial institution), then they might try to set up their own banks. Ngozi has actually warned about this in an interview with Economix (NYT) — that if the WB doesn’t “open up” the BRICs might set up their own development banks, which would be a big loss for the world’s poor because these regional banks would be starting from scratch, whereas the current WB has a top-notch staff and 70 years worth of learning, growth, and capacity-building to work with. There would be a lot of re-inventing of the wheel, all because the Bank couldn’t select a leader in a more open, meritocratic way.

    The more abstract answer is that an unfair and outdated selection process undermines the Bank’s legitimacy in general. Legitimacy is crucial for working with the Bank’s clients for a variety of reasons, Ngozi’s point about regional banks being one of them.

  10. @Michael: If I learned one thing from Kony 2012 (which would be one more thing than even I would predict) it is thus: “Keep your political message simple and principled.”

    I suppose also learned: “Get as many 17-year-olds as possible on your side”, but I have not figured out that angle yet. If only they had nominated Justin Bieber instead of Ngozi. We are, after all, overdue for a prominent Canadian world leader.

  11. Thanks Chris. My post is not about pro-Ngozi or anti-Ngozi. It’s about transparency and merit. Making the process merit-based rather than political requires–it’s not optional—a definition of merit, which requires an enumeration of the purposes of the organization and the position. I admire your stand for some merit-based process, which is indeed separate from the question of what merit means in this case, for this position. That’s a great stand. I was curious if you would take the next step and express an opinion on what defines merit in this case. I haven’t seen a better definition than the Articles of Agreement set by the shareholders. But if you don’t want to, I respect that; one has to choose one’s battles.

  12. @Michael and @iaboyeji: I simply think arguing for Ngozi (or anyone else for that matter) on their substance and merits is the lesser argument, not to mention the weaker one. It’s not the point, and it forfeits the high moral ground.

    @Skeptical: The alternative is not a one-nation-one-vote system like the UN. It will be closer to one-dollar-one-vote. Naturally there are better alternatives. But anything is superior to one-President-votes.

  13. @Gregg: I completely agree that institutions like the Bank are run by and for states, and that their leadership is subject to political horse trading. I’d like to see a more open, transparent, and consultative process, and I think the first important step in that is wresting the nomination out of the hands of the US President.

    I also agree with @Troy that the states who put the money into the Bank will probably need to have to have an out-sized say in who leads, and what the organization does, if we want a well-funded Bank. But that doesn’t mean we have to give one donor all the chips. And it doesn’t mean we can’t aim for a process that is more open.

    For @Afrophile’s concern that more attention isn’t paid to the process that generated Ngozi, fair enough. I still say baby steps. If you want the light shined on that process, we first and foremost need an open system. Until then (1) the the critics will simply line up behind the not-America’s-choice, and (2) India and Africa and Latin America will not have much incentive to make their nominee selection any more transparent or open.

    The basic point is that a more competitive and transparent process will probably result in better long-run outcomes. Why, the very POSSIBILITY that the US might not get their way this time has engendered more debate by more people than ever before, as @Gregg says. I’d like to think actual influence would engender even more public debate than the potential for influence we all see.

  14. Lets assume the US abstains from indicating the new prez. What happens next? I see two scenarios: UN style democracy, which is political to the n degree, and has already given Cuba, China and Syria seats at the human rights council. Or a dictatorship of experts, in which PhDs appoint one of their own (which criteria would we use? Can someone who does not publish in English ever rise to the top?). US paternalism sux, but the alternatives are far from ideal.

  15. Beyond the very valid points many of the commenters above have pointed out, to be completely honest Chris, I think its intellectually dishonest for anyone to claim Ngozi is the “status quo”. I mean, it would be just like calling Senator Obama the status quo in 2007 just because he is a senator (as McCain was as well). Despite the fact that she has experience at the highest levels of the World Bank, no one at its helm has had her kind of experience on both sides of the aisle. And experience that is relevant to the mission of the bank for that matter.

    Look at the previous heads of the World Bank. None of them have experienced crippling poverty that the world bank was set up to address. None of them have sat on the other end of the desk as a member of the government that the World Bank must relate with to be considered effective. Ngozi has acted as both an administrator and a client of the world bank. If that doesn’t uniquely qualify her to head it, I honestly don’t know what does.

    Besides, the case Kim’s supporters are making for a “change of guard” on the altar of public health feels rather avant garde to me. It sounds like change for change sake, not change that matters to the developing countries which the world bank is serving.

    These people consistently insist that the World Bank should listen to the people it is serving. Ngozi is the only chance in the race that this will happen. Kim, despite his interesting background will be the business as usual of some development expert telling developing countries what to do. It is just the truth.

  16. Chris this is a great post and I appreciate it.

    One way to get past tribalism is to address substance. Are you really completely agnostic, as this post suggests, about whether the core purpose of the World Bank is “health or finance”? It should finance all kinds of things, among them some health activity, but principally health?

    I asked this substantial question in this post. I argue that some set of transparent criteria are needed, and the Articles of Agreement provide a decent candidate for those criteria. If the Articles are the criteria, it’s very clear that the core purpose of the Bank is not health. What are a set of criteria that would lead to the conclusion that the main purpose of the institution is “health” and not “finance”? If there are no such criteria, how is it ambiguous whether the purpose of the Bank is “health or finance”?

    What’s been missing from the Kim proponents is a transparent, written set of purposes for the Bank on which he arguably dominates Ngozi. Instead there are inchoate arguments about how Kim is more “fresh” and “outsider”, as if anyone like Ngozi has ever been president of the Bank. These don’t amount to a vision of the institution and its several purposes that could plausibly lead to the conclusion that an expert in delivering health services is the best person on merit. Strong arguments can be made that Kim is a good person and good manager per se, but these are not relevant to the question of whether he is better than Ngozi—so much better that his citizenship doesn’t matter.

    So what is a list of purposes for the World Bank to exist that leave any ambiguity about whether its core mission is “health or finance”? This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

  17. Thanks Afrophile. I do think people are talking past each other. I for one will be glad when this is all over on Monday.
    A slight silver lining though: conversations are happening between people who don’t usually talk to each other. This is an opportunity to build a big tent for reform at the Bank.
    I’d be thrilled if we could get all those who engaged in this process to walk into the next President’s office, whoever she or he is and say we want change.
    I think we could agree on governance reform for a start, with the development of a new rigorous, transparent and inclusive process for the way the Bank not only elects its leaders, but sets its priorities and policies.

  18. Did you let your daughter choose her nanny — the person who’s tasked with helping her grow and prosper? Didn’t think so.

    (I’m not equating developing countries with toddlers in need of supervision, nor the donor countries with benevolent parents. But the bottom line is that both parents and donors are seeking to improve the lives of others and are incurring the costs to do so. They should retain the right to choose how best their money is spent, even if this introduces the possibility of mixed intentions.)

  19. I think it’s misleading to frame it as a choice between identity and substance. I think one camp has chosen to frame this as “process over substance”. To this camp, the most important consideration is correcting the flawed, unfair system of having the US president hand-select a president. These people are less concerned about who that person will ultimately be this time around.

    Another camp is more focused on the bank’s short-term substantive focus, and they’d probably frame the choice as something like, “change versus business as usual”. These people are more critical of the Bank and its record and think that Dr. Kim could represent a salutary shift in in Bank priorities toward things that the aid industry has proven itself better able to do (i.e. public health) and away from its sprawling project portfolio and emphasis on neoliberal macro policies.

    I think both camps feel a sense of frustration that the other camp doesn’t seem to respond to their criticisms. The “process over substance” people wonder why Dr. Kim’s supporters aren’t more troubled by the selection process and the continuation of “American imperialism”. Meanwhile Dr. Kim’s supporters look at the “process” or Ngozi supporters and wonder why they’re committed to business as usual (i.e. another bank insider and economist) at an institution whose record is spotty at best. And they’re both right!

    Who would have imagined we’d end up with Bill Easterly as one of the big defenders of the status quo at the World Bank?

  20. Chris,
    I think Justin’s tweet is reductionist and represents the tribalism you are complaining about.
    I don’t support Jim because he will drive the Bank towards health nor because I support US hegemony over the institution.
    Most of the multilateral institutions I know of are anti-democratic, the World Bank’s election process isn’t free or fair, but I don’t remember voting for Margaret Chan to run WHO either. All of these institutions are run by and for states and their leadership is subject to political horse trading of one kind or another and it all stinks.
    We need real systemic reform at the Bank, but shifting governance procedures there is more than having a debate at the Center for Global Development and then watching on C-SPAN as they do the roll call.
    As this entire fiasco has shown us there are competing visions for the Bank, which don’t necessarily line up the way certain commentators have described them. If we want a truly open, democratic process, it’s got to reach out to more than simply the usual suspects, to allow voices from outside certain professions to weigh in, and might I say even try to get input from people on the ground about it all.
    And by the way, I am still waiting for any critical analysis of the other two, now one, candidate(s). Jim has gone from a doddering Mother Teresa to an “embarrassment” to Sarah Palin, to this morning on your blog a running dog for imperialism. The opposition to Jim has been so over-the-top it’s been incredible to watch. Apparently Ngozi is perfect in every other way except for her passport.
    In the end, neither you nor I have control over what happens next week.
    I am engaged in these debates because my community-based experience has shown that what happens at the Bank has a real impact for good and for bad on the lives of people I know.
    I come down on the side for change, for an untested candidate, who hasn’t run anything nearly as big as the World Bank before.
    Then again, I voted for Barack Obama.

  21. Can I be frank? What is the absolute worst case scenario if Kim is elected? It seems all doom and gloom here with the World Bank if Kim becomes the head. Similarly many commentators (not necessarily you Chris) have stated that whoever controls the World Bank is not that big of a deal. So I am very confused as to what the worst case scenario is.

    Along these lines I completely agree that this process should not be controlled by the United States solely, and that the best candidate should get the job.

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