Opinion

The Great Debate

Ask the World Bank President

March 20, 2009

Robert ZoellickRobert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, and a man who believes that 2009 will be a “dangerous year”, will be speaking on March 31st and has agreed to take questions from Reuters readers.

Zoellick has been outspoken during the current economic crisis predicting the first shrinking of the economy since the ’30s, warning that increased government spending will simply create a ‘sugar high‘ until banks’ toxic assets are dealt with properly, and urging a tougher stand against protectionism.

But the World Bank’s primary focus is on helping developing nations and alleviating  poverty. Earlier this month it published research showing that the spreading crisis will push 46 million more people into poverty in 2009 on top of 130-155 million pushed into poverty in 2008.

With the London summit of the Group of 20 nations on April 2nd fast approaching what do you want to know about the World Bank’s role in shoring up the world economy and helping poorer nations? Use the comments section below, or use the #askwb tag on Twitter, and I’ll get as many of your questions to Robert Zoeliick as possible.

UPDATE: This event has now taken place and you can view the questions we put to Robert Zoellick in the player below. We have no means to pass on any further questions to the World Bank but you are welcome to add your comments on the discussion thread below.

Comments
295 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Do you think it is time for an approach that intertwines people and planet metrics in the bottom line so that we can further integrate Social Responsibility in the business decision making process?

 

Are there any specific economic measures that the World Bank is proposing for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to enable them to resurface after the workd financial crisis?

 

Mr. Zoellick, thank you for being here. What kind of austerity measures, or other actions, would you typically recommend for a hypothetical country undergoing debt and solvency crises similar to those now occurring in the United States?

 

When can we expect to see an end to worldwide monetary use, the international monetary fund, and the world bank? If economies are based on, and, or fueled by monetary, and economies keep crashing throughout history, then why isn’t it obvious that monetary is a failed system? How many times must great economies suffer and fail for no reason. since the introduction of the monetary system, the value of monetary has continued to decrease over time to th point where it is worth less than dirt. The value of the U.S. dollar alone has decrased 60 cents just in the past 20 years alone, let alone since it’s insertion to the U.S. . So I ask again, when will the world bank shut down and set forth a good example and healthy start for economies world wide? Money creates inequality, and inequality is what creates catastrophe on any level.

Posted by Daniel W. | Report as abusive
 

A relative of mine was on the Board of the World Bank. He has HARDLY paid any taxes in his life and is now busy setting up a foundation in Luxembourg to glorify himself as he’s near to meeting with his creator and has no children – well none that the family know of in any case….
What has he done to contribute to make the world a better place??? What has the World Bank done to make the world a better place other than foster corruption and destruction of the environment??? But very soon the super rich (and super thoughtless) will find out that they have only bought themselves the priviledge of being the last to starve. My relative was just lucky enough to have lived the “best” years Humanity has known or at least the “developped” world. Unfortunately we are outbreeding the planet and we comprises the developped world as each child born here consumes more resources than the others who are just racing to catch up!! The conundrum is we all want to live long, healthy lives, have large tribes and a lot on our plates and mathematically it just is not feasible. They should teach about Malthus in economic schools, the market doesn’t regulate the most basic human instinct: procreation!

Posted by Esther Phillips | Report as abusive
 

Mr.robert ,

I would ask you just how long it takes to prevent the crisis of poverty from world means devolping countries those are under devlop or in initial phase of devlopment?

Posted by TIKARAM | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Zoellik, I am work in the world of finance. I am considering shifting my entrepeneurial energies and experience into the field of microfinance for the poor. I am intrigued at the policy and social implications for microlending as a force for improving opportunities for greater autonomy. What can you tell me about the position the World Bank is currently taking on this matter and specific departments/agencies engaging in this activity?

Posted by John Doerfer | Report as abusive
 

What is the use of having World Banks and IMFs if we cannot protect ourselves from such crisis? What is your answer to the trillions of poor people in the world who cannot even dare to dream now of a better future? So-called economists, nobel laureats, experts could not predict the arrival of crisis of such magnitude? I think it’s time we stop preaching and start working.

Posted by Nayanima | Report as abusive
 

It seems as if this economic crisis has been too focused in the developed world and the plight of those in the developing world has been forgotten. This is just symptomatic of the problem of global order wherein many hypocrisies are much evident. How can so much money be mobilized to save the failures of capitalism and the casino-like nature of the financial companies and at the same time we complain that relatively small amounts of aid is “wasted” in developing countries. At the end of this, will institutions like the World Bank, who has a say in both developing and developed countries be reformed in such a way that future prosperity will occur more equitably. This economic crisis is a period in time where we can all reflect on how globalization has affected different countries in different ways and consider measures to change this evidently wrong path we are heading on. Will we be able to realize that future prosperity will only occur when we seriously take into consideration problems such as climate change, resource depletion, social injustice, poverty and the growing income gap and not only the “bailouts” that may just waste massive amounts of money and focus on ineffective short term policies.

Posted by Zhe Lee | Report as abusive
 

Sir,
Before becoming President of the World Bank, in the last decade you have been a US Trade Representative, a Deputy Secretary of State, and a managing director of Goldman Sachs.
My question is as follows — Now that we are seeing here is the US the miserable failure of the Neocons’ golden combination of nearly unrestrained financial greeding frenzy and dreams of a politico-military hegemony, how have your own perspectives changed, and how do you think the Bank should adapt to the current changes ?

Posted by I.W. Asbrox | Report as abusive
 

Well I know the world is really run by the globalist banking elite and in the USA the Godfather has been David Rockefeller. Nick has been over in Chindia for quite awhile and I myself have been in over 30 countries. The big banking dream is to control the world but I doubt it will be for the average person’s benefit. You will have what you now an elite and the masses and with the population increasing on a limited ball in space less to go around. The globlist bankers will want to control the basic resources and the people through debt. As I was down in Brazil at GM back in the late 80′s and know the history I’m sorry to say the people don’t seem to be on a banker’s balance sheet-they are a cost! I do understand the frustrations of companies trying to operate across national boundaries but when the people are too poor then the reaction is usually tighter restrictions on business which cuts their profits. There is a fine line between business and the people’s perception of your company and to exceed that can result in horrible repression and a backlash that can endanger the whole system if taken too far. Backing Pinochet in Chile was a nasty business and backing thr military in ’64 in Brazil was rough too. A good example too would be Iran in 53′ for British Petroleum which has resulted in first a brutal regime and then the backlash. Basically this is international gangsterism but I observed one curious thing as a youth. My first job(lied about my age to get) was at an A&P packing plant which the Italian mob took over. Although they could muscle into a business they couldn’t run a sustainable operation and it soon went under. A good businessman runs a clean operation sustainably whether illegal or legal and Meyer Lansky proved that with his Casinos. Gangsters do not run sustainable busineses they fleece them. Question is for the World Bank is are you financial gangsters or are you truly out to run a sustainable planet? It’s a clear choice at this point.

Posted by Karl Hodgson | Report as abusive
 

Public discourse on development aid tends to end with how much money is being spent. Sometimes people talk about corruption. But In many parts of Africa, educated Africans view NGO work is a cushy job, with little accountability for their results. What will it take to get policy-makers (and commentators) fulminating about the incredible wastes and inefficiencies in aid, and lack of accountability for results (reduced poverty, child mortality, whatever)?

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive
 

Do you feel that the banking restrictions that were relaxed during the Reagan Administration have contributed to the crisis we’re now experiencing? If so, should those restrictions be put back into place? It seems to me that many of those restrictions were designed to prevent this very thing from happening.

Posted by Don Brooks | Report as abusive
 

Development is usually seen as the best, fastest way to reducing poverty.
Commit the world bank to building roads and access to clean water in the least developed world.

Posted by vin reilly | Report as abusive
 

What are the best non-profits (or for profits) do you think for people interested in helping the most people break the cycle of poverty?

Posted by Vimal | Report as abusive
 

When will someone own up to that fact that the system cannot be fixed because it is the system that is the problem. Democracy ends at the office or factory door. Those of us who work are not allowed to participate in decisions over what goods and services are provided, how work is done and how profits are allocated. Why don’t smart people like you just go away and stop torturing the rest of us. We dummies can work things out.

Posted by joan callender | Report as abusive
 

To what degree do you think that the rolling out of bio-char carbon sequestration/gas producing technologies will offset any worst case scenarios you have in mind for the presumed ‘dangerous year’ of 2009?

Posted by Daniel Craver | Report as abusive
 

Sir,

Thank you for your demonstrated commitment to a rapid agreement at the G20 summit. The world is watching impatiently.

Do you have any hesitations that the only path to a successful global solution is as stated by the dominant narrative, illuminated for the benefit of stakeholders, and reiterated as follows:

No matter how the consensus is exposed on the surface’s discourse, be it by flowery diction or unadorned truth, the key necessitates these initial demands:

1) Transparency of all transactions including selection of your successors.
2) Delinking of so-called ‘neoliberalization policies’ from the monetary functions of the bank.
3) The resetting of the eligibility criteria for loans.
4) The resetting and enforcement of criteria for debt relief.
5) A promise to mandate non-protectionist competitive bidding for investment contracts.
6) The duty to fight corruption, dependency on aid, and dictatorship.
7) Respect for the will of the people as the entitlement of sovereign nations.
8) Abiding by sanctions against individuals and entities that commit gross violations of international treaties.
9) A refusal to enable terrorist networks.
10) Arrest of all policies that force overconsumption and other unsustainable practices.
11) Cooperation with trilateral intelligence operations, and an understanding of your power and responsibility in fragile times.

Your reaction is truly apprecia-
ted,

Capacita Disraeli

 

Do you really think your “secret” plan of carbon tax / credits is actually going to go over with us? It won’t.

Most people know “climate change” is a total lie. Most of us know that everything that comes out of you or your banking cabal friends’ mouths are all lies.

We know you are in the business of enslavement. Is that why poverty and genocide is INCREASING since you’ve been on the scene?

Posted by John | Report as abusive
 

Do you think due to protectionism and isolationism, currently growing in the world today due to the economic problems we are encoutereing, that the 3rd world war will occcur in 5, 10, or 15 years from now, and will it be nuclear only in the northern hemispheres. tx.r.ce.

 

How can a Bank support stability when it only supports Consumption without Restriction?

If banks give money to producers and consumers, the question becomes thus: if both grow each others interactions with the other, then how can either gain more and then how can the bank gain? Consumers are borrowing, and industry are borrowing, and both have called forth greater availability of cash.

As Warren Buffet does with BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC., he does not split stock despite the ‘greater demand’ for it. However governments do not do this and instead inflate money by printing destroying current value without creating value creating a need for interest rates due to the destruction of old money. It is rather the same with any valuable similar gold as its usefulness does not deteriorate with the discovery of more usefulness rather than availability like diamonds.

What is the World Bank going to do to stop the endless cycle of creation and destruction of value which has necessitated the need of interest?

Posted by Rob T | Report as abusive
 

Sir, are there any aspects of your work that takes into consideration effect of this crisis on the relations and dynamics between Europe, Africa and the African diaspora, (that is those individuals of African descent, born and bred), as “Black Europeans”. The same question would apply to Latin America.

Posted by Marcia Kia Simpson-James | Report as abusive
 

What would be wrong with having a World Reserve Currency based on the value of gold, silver, platinum and palladium instead of the present US$ which seems to be only based on faith and hope?
Are not the trillions of dollars now being added to the money supply, in addition to the approximately $5.5 trillion added since the year 2000 going to significantly debase the currency further?

Posted by Carlos J.Romero | Report as abusive
 

The Bank and the IFC need to get out of development and go back to old fashioned bank lending to developing countries. The Bnk should focus on just a few things that will help to reduce, if not eradicate poverty and improve the well-being of people in developing countries:
1. Make loans and grants to enable affordable energy, accessible potable water, sanitation systems, affordable and clean public transport including improved and extended road and railway systems.
2. Begin a major focus on cities in the developing world that are growing at unprecedented rates, and where infrastructure is negligible and life-styles are awful.
3. Acknowledge, with WHO that certain diseases that take huge amounts of money now, are essentially diseases of choice and life-style diseases–e.g. AIDS, lung cancers. Don’t be overrun by the hype of lobbying groups whose special communities practice life styles that the rest of society has to support. There are plenty of other health issues that need attention.
4. begin to develop with developing countries a sense of a vision of what they want their country’s to look like beyond being copies of the material West. The West’s legacy to the developing countries has been rank materialism. They need to develop visions for themselves that include common values over and above petty tribal values. The Bank should then support communication and social marketing programs to help these values get intgerated into the system
5. Put more focus on getting girls into secondary education. They are the hope of the future. Not men.
6. Start selecting your staff from places other than the major Universities top ten Univesities like Harvard or Yale. Stop using them as training grounds for recycling your staff or training new staff. These elite institutions were the ones whose world view and philosophies have led Institutions like yours into bad lending practices and poor results in the first place. Stop thinking that you have diversity in your staff when they they come from the elites in their home countries and attended elite institutions. There is no differnece in their world view from a Boston Brahmin.
7. Start funding NGOs directly. People in developing countries can complain about the wealthy life style of NGOs, but the truth is that most NGO staff live modest lives. The World bank only reluctantly supports MGOs. Why not put together an NGO Board that would screen unsolicted proposals and fund them. The Bank could then provide the research support to see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s the best way to get innovation into the system.

Posted by Mona | Report as abusive
 

The world is awash with cash with no safe place
to invest.The investing public are suffering a
loss of faith in governments and financial institutions.
The IMF holds the key to unlocking the global
financial gridlock by way of enabling IMF member
countries citizens to directly invest in SDR’s.
Such a truely international currency unit should be the most appealing
investment in the world – even surpassing US Treasury
Bonds . So – why can’t the IMF allow such private investment in SDR’s ?? Why can’t this simplistic
and logical move be considered by the IMF.

 

Do you believe that concept of money has been more beneficient than harmful for all humans and the nature of this planet, until this moment in time? (including its side effects and advantages)

Is your vision of the future one where money and currency will be beneficient (positive, good) for all humans on this planet and at the same time beneficient (positive, good) for the nature of this planet as a whole?

Do you sincerely think that such a scenario would be possible?
Are you working for that utopia or not?

Posted by Osman Darcan | Report as abusive
 

Considering the weaknesses of previous World Bank and IMF recommended policies such as the Structural Adjustment Programme in developing countries, and given the present financial crisis which seems to pin point some of the underlying structural and ideoligical weaknesses of the economic models in the most developed countries, what do you think will be the implications of these events on the reception and execution of future donor recommended economic policies for developing countries?

 

1. Is the World Bank not responsible for answering every single question posted here on this debate?

The World Bank IS called the *WORLD* Bank.

2. Does this not imply that this organisation must have the well beeing of the 6 billion human inhabitants and countless non human inhabitants, as its primary concern?

Posted by Osman Darcan | Report as abusive
 

The best solution is to abolish the corrupt FED. Return to a gold standard currency. And totally outlaw the fraudulent derivatives market which is void of real value. The enterprises of the hard working private sector have had enough ponzi style financial fraud especially in high government. Limit government. Wash DC exists for and from the people not the people existing for DC. This is way out of line. We have had enough lies and deceit.

Posted by cf | Report as abusive
 

What are you doing to end the “not-invented-here” mentality when it comes to devising solutions that help stabilize developing country economies?

Why is it that the Technical Assistance divisions of the WB and IMF, and every other bilateral development bank– much less your own private sector division IFC– can’t manage to work together with each other, and often work at odds with each other?

Why it is that your Treasury told us in specific terms that it was not interested in the WB’s Solve Poverty mandate, but was only interested in optimizing its cost of capital so it could compete with Goldman Sachs and the other commercial institutions it fought for to get funding from the public markets? The WB has the most robust AAA rating in the world and funds below LIBOR so how could it possibly be competing with private sector banks for financing? How does it make you feel to know that you have people in key positions who do not believe it is their responsibility to meet the mission and mandate that the WB was created to serve?

 

What are the top three special interest groups influencing World Bank policies? How do they apply pressure?

Posted by Dave B. | Report as abusive
 

Isn’t it irrational for governments to agree to WTO and the like? If not to protect the economic and other interests of a nation, why be a nation? Isn’t protectionism the only rational response for an individual nation to take to an economic crisis like the one the world is experiencing? Only in the abstract is it best to refrain from protectionism. Just as it may be best for the overall US economy for US citizens to keep on spending, it is best for the individuals to save their money, and that is just what they are doing. Since the WTO agreements leave out any agreements regarding environment or worker rights, it is a race to the bottom. In good times that race to the bottom appears to be headed upward, but in crisis it becomes obvious which direction is down. Without a world government, WTO agreements are irrational. They are based not on the best interests of citizens of a nation, but on the best interests of corporations. It was after all corporate interests which crafted the WTO.

Posted by Eric Hans | Report as abusive
 

Isn’t the economic model, Western Capitalism, promoted by the World Bank a giant Ponzi Scheme that only works as long as there is growth? Like all Ponzi Schemes the necessary exponential growth cannot continue forever. Global warming and the present human caused sixth major planet wide mass extinction threaten the continued existence of humans, and therefore must immediately be addressed. Global warming and mass extinction are both caused by the rapid expansion of human population and fossil fuel based economic activity.

What economic model could the World Bank promote which would allow humans to sustain a good quality of life for as long as humans remain on this planet?

Posted by Eric Hans | Report as abusive
 

WB’s mandate to provide low-interest loans, interest-free credits and grants to developing countries for education, health, public administration, infrastructure, and agriculture is being sidelined because of the present crisis. The funds are going to industries and banks to save them from Bankruptcies. Whereas they are facing bankruptcies because of there own mistakes. The privately owned businesses should not be saved from the funds meant for noble cause of development of poor people.
How do you justify this?

Posted by Deepak Sondhi | Report as abusive
 

Corruption and the misuse of funds are recurring issues for developing countries such as the Philippines. The World Bank recently even got embroiled in a domestic corruption controversy that accuses no less than the husband of President Arroyo of being involved in the rigging of bids for the World Bank-financed National Road Improvement and Management Project. Subsequently, however, the WB imposed penalties on private companies which have participated in the bid rigging but shied away from even pinpointing the obvious involvement of government functionaries in the corrupt practice.
The World Bank said the investigations on corruption it made on the project involves internal guidelines and leaves it to the particular government to pursue a possible criminal case. It was a safe course in which the World Bank can still say that something has been done to combat corruption in its turf.
Later on, the WB even raised the assistance to Philippine projects which seems to be similar to the corruption-laden road project.
Mr. Robert Zoellick has been noted for championing anti-corruption ideals when he assumed his post.
It seems, however, that the World Bank opts to take a safe middle ground whenever it approaches the hump of geopolitics.

 

Sir,
It seems that the cooperatives worldover are relatively safe and continued to perform better in all sphere of economic and social actvities. would you recommend the cooperative form of economy to solve the current crisis?

Posted by Veerakumaran | Report as abusive
 

The Gold Standard and the workingman and woman
This may sound like science fiction but under the Gold Standard there is permanent deflation equal to economic growth. If the economy is growing at 2 percent year you will have deflation rate at 2 percent a year. The value of your Gold backed money increases year after year. The earnings you make today this money will be worth more the next year. This changes the psychology of working men and women instead of spending all of your money today on credit to beat inflation and demanding wage increases to compensate for inflation. Under the Gold Standard working men and women will cause them to save their Gold backed money and hold off on any purchases except for basic necessities such as food rent clothing and major purchases will be put off to the last possible minute. The working class will save their money in a Gold reserve bank to gain an additional half percent on top of deflation. There will be those people who will demand the actual Gold Silver Palladium and Platinum bars and coins and chose to keep their precious metal assets under the mattress or a safe. But these people will keep the system honest in stopping the governments and the banks from printing more paper certificates than there are Gold reserves to back it up. Under the Gold reserve banking system savers or depositors have title to their money. This means the working class people decide which companies will get loans for their businesses and which businesses will not get loans. Obviously companies that engage in environmental disasters, fraudulent practices, habitual layoffs, hiring and firings to lower wages, hiring illegal aliens, hiring foreign workers to displace domestic workers, deindustrialization’s outsourcing work to outside of their home countries to lower wages will not get loans. A company that hires and invests long term only their home countries have stable socially responsible employment practices not creating environmental problems and are good business neighbors will get more loans than they can use.
The business cycle is created by excessive credit expansion than when inflation becomes a problem than a sudden contraction in credit to stop inflation. This is why we have regular recessions and deep recessions. A Gold Standard will have no business cycles just seasonal cycles. The ideal balance for fiat currencies is to expand the money supply not greater than the economic growth thus no inflation but nor deflation. However central banks and regular banks cannot stop stealing and they will steal as much as they can get away with. This is why we have the permanent inflation tax. Inflation is just plain stealing from the workingman and woman. The 1929 great depression was intentional so banks can buy distressed companies at pennies on the dollar. During the 1920’s or the roaring twenties stock market boom the Federal Reserve greatly expanded credit far beyond reason and to get all of the suckers in the stock market swindle. This swindle pump and dump scheme created the Rockefellers J. P. Morgan and other banking families their extreme wealth. It was the world’s greatest swindle. This swindle created an oil dependent economy which banks profited handsomely.

Posted by Phil | Report as abusive
 

One of the most striking truths revealed by the current financial crises is the disparity between the enforcement of tax law for the poor and for the wealthiest one percent. It is estimated that corporations have more than 100,000,000,000 in assets hidden away in the Cayman Islands alone at a time when many financial entities are in the need of recapitalization and the treasuries of so many nations are at the brink what role should the world bank play in ensuring that these banks and other irresponsible entities who have bene recapitalized by those who have not skirted tax law are not themselves avoiding international tax law in havens such as was previously established in Lichtenstein and that still exists in the Caymen Islands.

Posted by Gabrial from Indiana | Report as abusive
 

Asia is the only area which has a positive economic growth at this difficult time. Among the countries The Maldives is the richest as per GDP. My Question is about the future of Maldives economy and the challenges it has faced. What are the most important steps the Maldives government and private sector should take during this crisis to keep the country’s position.

Posted by niu | Report as abusive
 

I am curious as to how the World Bank will address the plight of highly indebted middle income countries during this crisis. The crisis provides a unique opportunity to speak to and implement concrete measures that can assist those countries which have debt to GDP ratios of higher than 90% and between 60 and 90 per cent. These countries need a combination of debt relief and debt forgiveness that looks at what is being offered to the HIPCs and takes in the developmental challenges that debt poses by crowding out public and other necessary investments in human capital development. If these countries are “freed” up, in a sense, to pursue other development imperatives, it will also be to the benefit of the developed world as the problems of the developing world usually become the problems of the developed world.

Posted by Sophia W-G | Report as abusive
 

dear sir,

I would like to hear your opinion about what could have been done to avoid the world crisis.
What was the most important factor that triggered the crisis?

Posted by Octavian Petrescu | Report as abusive
 

As an economists in a developing world, ‘am scarred that this financial meltdown could be an attempt by developed nations to envelop developing nations.Pls, as a world bank president can you tell me how it all started?

Posted by Raphael Ikyaabo Orban | Report as abusive
 

It is quite rational to see and understand the present financial situation, and Mr Zoellick has just done that. It is indeed disturbing to find the world in an economic chaos. What really caused this…we have to be realistic and not idealistic. Bad debts, unwarranted aid to nations with bad credit history, sagging resources caused by the Iraq and Afghan quagmire. How Mr. Zoël lick is going to bring the world currency mechanism in an acceptable broadband? The WB and the IMF are simply following the old traditional path, and this needs to be reviewed. Unless all the nations agree to a common denomination factor based on the present monetary situation and come out with a realistic solution -indeed the year 2009 will be a “Very dangerous year” as developing nations will be hard hit and the poverty alleviation programs may be in economic ‘Freezer”. Moreover, the WB and the IMF have to be free of political pressure so they can think independently and perhaps a viable solution may be in sight. Lets keep the fingers crossed. Good Luck Mr Zoellick !

Posted by Nazim Hasan | Report as abusive
 

i think would will help restart the wheels turning again for this economy is to give every working american a second chance by restarting are credit scores we can get a low interest loan to pay off debt start buying cars again and homes

 

Thanks for sharing event video… nice post…

 

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