Is the World Bank board sure what Jim Kim thinks?

By Felix Salmon
April 13, 2012
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William Easterly is uncharacteristically credulous today. He spoke to one of those Senior Administration Officials on Wednesday, and the Official gave Easterly the official explanation for why Jim Yong Kim has failed to RSVP for the CGD/Washington Post forum or for any other public appearance.

The official said it was purely logistical: Kim has been constantly on the road meeting member governments, and would continue to be on the road right up until the vote.

Moreover, Kim’s nomination happened at the last possible moment, and the nominations of Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo were also late. The official said this was a global appointment and not a Washington one, so member governments have a higher claim on Kim’s very limited time than development experts.

I confess this argument (almost) convinces me.

Easterly goes on to say that because there needs to be some kind of public debate about Kim’s views on development, the World Bank’s board should delay its choice in the matter until after that debate has happened.

That’s not going to happen: by all accounts we’re well into the end of the process already. The board has interviewed all three candidates, and today is taking a straw poll — a process designed to build consensus (if you’re being charitable) or make it obvious that no non-U.S. candidate has any chance of winning (if you’re not). Jose Antonio Ocampo has officially withdrawn his candidacy in favor of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; it’s a noble move, but it’s unlikely to have much practical effect. By Monday, barring some divine intervention, Kim will have been officially awarded the job, in a process characterized by extreme opacity — especially now that a key BRIC nation, Russia, is officially supporting Kim.

I do appreciate that Kim’s constituency, both now and for however long he holds his new job, is the Bank’s shareholders, rather than the broader public. And so, like any good politician, he’s concentrating on buttering up his constituents.

But when most politicians butter up their constituents, they do so in public, and the news media is there to report on what they’re saying. Kim’s meetings, in contrast, have all taken place behind closed doors.

Daniel Altman thinks it’s a “canard” that the next president of the Bank should be asked to make his case to the public, on the grounds that hey, the Bank doesn’t actually cost taxpayers that much. But this isn’t about money, it’s about transparency. And specifically, if all of Kim’s meetings are being held behind closed doors, no one knows what horses are being traded, what the countries with the most votes are asking of Kim, and what he’s promising them in return for their vote.

If a candidate appears in public and says quite clearly what his vision for the bank is and what he intends to do about certain matters, then at least there’s something to hold him to once he’s in office. Kim, by contrast, has said essentially nothing about what he wants to do at the Bank; everybody supporting him is essentially projecting their own hopes for what they would like him to do.

And so while I wouldn’t go so far as Michael Clemens, who suggests that Kim’s nomination could be a violation of the Bank’s articles of agreement, if I were on the board I’d be a bit worried about what Kim had told all the other countries while he was on his “listening tour”, and I’d welcome a public position statement from him just to make sure that he’s saying the same thing to everybody.

6 comments

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Your crusade against Jim Kim is getting ridiculous. The logic behind his selection is not that egregious in that development aid over the last five decades has only been shown to be successful in the one area where Kim has been a luminary–health care.

The type of basic economics needed to serve as a leader at a bank which does very little complicated financial engineering can be picked up in a week. Even then, if he doesn’t, the numerous economic experts on his staff are there for a reason (i.e., to provide him with the guidance to make good decisions). He has already shown that he can lead large instituitions (e.g., Dartmouth) so as a candidate he doesn’t really have material flaw.

Ngozi is typical of the candidates who a large proportion of the world is sick of. Superficially qualified (no real development experience), narrowly trained (ie., only in finance and economics) and a favorite of the world’s elite (ie., popular former finance minister). If this sort of candidate had not been repeatedly tried and failed, I would be much more sympathetic to your argument.

Now there are some extra tweaks people are adding like diversity which are also more ambiguous than you claim. Jim Kim is Asian in heritage and given the Bank is going to re-orient towards Asia increasingly in the future, an African (woman or not) is not going to help here.

Posted by camillus24 | Report as abusive

I bet a lot of money Jim Yong Kim doesnt know what all five arms of the Bank does.

Posted by Jeneral28 | Report as abusive

I fail to understand why Iweala should not be disqualified on the count that Nigeria is in bad economic health.

Posted by eas545 | Report as abusive

Jeneral28, it is easy. They all transfer wealth from poor first worlders to rich third-worlders whilst enriching themselves.

WB is up there with the other supranational institutions like the UN in that if they cannot rape it, steal it or embezzle it then they are simply not interested.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

The choice of Kim is a good one for the reason that he is a practitioner of development. Anyone who has followed the Bank’s failed policies especially in Africa – SAP’s, Education, etc will tell you that the theorists can’t to the job. Okonjo is not a success by any measure when it comes to seeking such a top job. If is a fantasy or is it a fairy tale, that a Nigerian would seek such a job. Her career in Nigeria did not turn that nation around. Being from a country or continent in which they cannot manage their money, seek debt forgiveness yet come for more and do not ever show signs of improved governance of their monetary and corruption ridden structures raises an eyebrow. Asia is the direction of the next few years and Kim is well placed to take that on. It matters that you are from a country that is not known as the corrupt Mecca of the world.

Posted by JennyLJones | Report as abusive

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