Promise-breaking at the World Bank, Part 1: Before

That 66th birthday month of his, March 2012, was auspicious for adding a little spice to his dreary life, but no, it just can’t last. Born in March 1946 alongside his evil twin, IMF, in Savannah Georgia, after conception in what must have been a rather sleazy New Hampshire hotel (the ‘Bretton Woods’) in mid-1944, the old geezer known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or much better by his nickname World Bank (but let me just use WB), really ought to be considering retirement.

Not to be ageist (ok just this once), but still, it’s patently obvious that WB’s relentless WashCon ideology is so last-century, so discredited by recent world financial melting, and so durably dangerous in today’s world. His presidents have reflected the worst of the old yankee imperialist mindset. And let’s not even start on IMF’s extremist lads and lass, who in recent years have migrated their austerity dogma from North Africa to Southern Europe and to my native Ireland, meeting growing resistance along the way.

Even that one moment in 1997-98 when, obviously in mid-life crisis and slightlydestabilised by his East Asian buddies’ spills, WB developed a little moral spine and sensibility – witnessed by his chief economist Joseph Stiglitz’s loose talk of a new Post-Washington Consensus – the devil on WB’s right-hand shoulder (named Larry Summers) told his then president James Wolfensohn to boot Stiglitz out, in September 1999, if Wolfensohn wanted to hang around WB for another five years. Order given, and immediately executed.

So the fresh, slightly punky Post-WashCon chatter was never heard again in the 21st century Bank. Although each December since 2009, current president Robert Zoellick has tried to masquerade WB during UN climate summits as a Green Bank (hah) (http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/19/what-will-robert-zoellick-break-next/), the institution has degenerated into a bumbling, often senile, and permanently demented entity.

Alzheimers kicks in when a Third World minister in the pocket of a US or European energy company comes knocking to beg for a coal-fired power plant, as WB immediately forgets the greenwash: “but of course, we know of no climate constraints!” (translation: I’ll soon be dead). Or when WB’s staffers venture with the IMF’s into North African finance ministries, wanting to wrench their dirty money back – yet pretending never to have heard of their now missing or sick or dead hunting pals Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gadaffi. (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/73932) (The IMF’s Washington and Cairo leadership – specifically, John Lipsky and Ratna Sahay – have even been babbling incomprehensibly about ‘social justice,’ so desperate are they to sell new loans so Egypt’s tyrant generals can pay off the old.) (http://links.org.au/node/2546)

However, instead of suggesting a graceful exit from a world economy still crippled by recent financial-liberalisation thuggery egged on by WB, his minder two blocks east in the White House Oval Office has given the old man a taste of Viagra, by nominating for WB president a virile 52-year old (the youngest ever), a man who is doubtless best known across the globe for stylish rapping and dancing with talented Dartmouth College kids. (http://www.businessinsider.com/video-obamas-nominee-for-the-world-bank-is-a-rapping-space-man-2012-3)
WB’s most likely new leader (because really, only yankees need apply), Dartmouth president Jim Yong Kim, will be a heartbreaker, it’s easy to predict – and the kids already teach us that if we just bother to hear them.

One senior student, Dennis Zeveloff, wrote in The Dartmouth newspaper that Kim’s management refused to “communicate with students, improve advising or create a more academic atmosphere.” (http://thedartmouth.com/2012/03/29/opinion/voces) Those hoping for a different WB with Kim as president and more access for progressive civil society, listen up.

Max Yoeli, the 2012 student body president, wrote in the same pages that Kim suffers “a remarkable devotion to image over impact, a disregard for student input and selfishness in his fulfillment of a tremendous responsibility.” There was “a stunning lack of transparency”; he “consistently abdicated leadership”; and Kim’s “fractured and disappointing legacy” will be remembered for “his utter lack of ties to the community and the shortest presidential tenure at the College since the early 19th century.” (http://thedartmouth.com/2012/03/29/opinion/yoeli)

As whistle-blowing student Andrew Lohse complained in an article in The Dartmouth that Obama should have read, two months prior to Kim’s Bank nomination, “a systemic culture of abuse exists under a college president who has the power and experience to change what can only be described as a public health crisis of the utmost importance: the endemic culture of physical and psychological abuse that occupies the heart of Dartmouth’s Greek [fraternity] community.” (http://thedartmouth.com/2012/01/25/opinion/lohse)

Lohse’s main allegation, confirmed in a Rolling Stone magazine investigation (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/confessions-of-an-ivy-league-frat-boy-inside-dartmouths-hazing-abuses-20120328#ixzz1rERvlM7L) last month (following which Lohse was rewarded with a stunningly misguided College prosecution, subsequently withdrawn), is that Dartmouth Man gets taught ruling-class behavior during student fraternities’ hazing experiences.

Michael Bronski, a professor of women’s and gender studies, confirmed to Rolling Stone that Dartmouth’s Animal House frat “members are secure that they have bright futures, and they just don’t care. I actually see the culture as being predicated on hazing. There’s a level of violence at the heart of it that would be completely unacceptable anywhere else, but here, it’s just the way things are.”

In Lohse’s own frat, first-year recruits were, as he witnessed, compelled to “swim in a kiddie pool full of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omeletts made of vomit [‘vomelettes’]; chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; drink beers poured down fellow pledges’ ass cracks; and vomit on other pledges, among other abuses.”

Kim was Dartmouth’s president when Lohse began complaining. The Dartmouth president was fully aware of the vomelette-makers’ ethos, including denialism, but did nothing, says Lohse, leaving “an intoxicating nihilism at the center of our culture that fraternities perpetuate through pathological lies while continuing the abuses.”

As One Percenters in training, Dartmouth Men are the sixth-highest paid university graduates in the US, in spite of what Lohse calls the “pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault.” Yes, according to the student paper, “Dartmouth reportedly has the highest number of reported sexual assaults in the Ivy League.”

Observed Yoeli, “Kim could not find time to attend a single event of V-Week — 11 days devoted to combating violence against women — despite its clear relevance to campus life.” And as for the College’s hottest issue since in 1986 likeminded frat boys bashed an anti-apartheid, pro-divestment shantytown on the campus quad, “Kim will likely escape Dartmouth without making any meaningful progress on hazing,” laments Yoeli.

Rolling Stone explained this by quoting Kim’s 2009 promise to rich alumni worried that Dartmouth’s quaint primitiveness might not earn his respect. He “reassured them he had no intention of overhauling the fraternities,” because, Kim confided, “One of the things you learn as an anthropologist, you don’t come in and change the culture.” (He learned that lesson as a doctoral student at Harvard, not far from Dartmouth in distance or philosophy, though hazing is reportedly not quite as rigorous.) That’s one promise Kim did keep.

Why focus so much on this pathetic institution? Concludes Lohse, “One of the things I’ve learned at Dartmouth – one thing that sets a psychological precedent for many Dartmouth men – is that good people can do awful things to one another for absolutely no reason.”

Dartmouth’s man-grooming sounds like excellent preparation for climbing the career ladder: straight up from cooking vomelettes for your peers, into WB’s arms where as I argue below, in relation to fossil fuels, lending that causes victims to vomit blood seems to be structured into the job.

But what Kim’s crack about anthropology means is that he promises, in effect, to break any promise you think his nomination portends for changing – even slightly adjusting – WB’s exceptional track record of poverty-creation.

So if you thought the excellent book he co-edited a dozen years ago – appropriately entitled Dying for Growth (http://www.zcommunications.org/contents/185491) – means that Professor Kim will teach our old WB dog a new trick, then, if you can hold back the tears, read his banal Financial Times op-ed a week after the nomination (shortly after that dangerous Noam Chomsky endorsement of the book circulated amongst chin-wagging elites). Writing about his native Korea, an exception that in many respects proves the rule (of uneven and combined capitalist development), Kim soothed the FT’s corporate readership: “I have seen how integration with the global economy can transform a poor country into one of the most dynamic and prosperous economies in the world.” (http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1510.aspx)

It’s no doubt hard to hear, but Kim’s critique of the neoliberal, corporate-driven, debt-encumbered, health-destroying, environment-raping, patriarchy-promoting, racist power regime called globalization – so convincingly argued in Dying for Growth – is already being dashed against the reality of Washington financial power. It’s just like Obama’s intoxicating ability to say things in 2008 that you thought he meant, which ever since gave him space to legitimise imperialism, re-empower the corporate oligarchy, erode the Constitution and destroy the environment.

“Kim promised Dartmouth an approximately 10-year engagement,” griped alumnus Charlie Hoffmann: “Partners in Health colleagues must have missed the irony in their statement on Kim’s nomination: ‘Jim is all about delivery and about delivering on promises often made but too seldom kept.’” (http://thedartmouth.com/2012/03/29/opinion/voces)

Partners in Health is possibly the most progressive, dynamic major NGO in the health field, and after co-founding this non-profit agency with Paul Farmer in 1987, Kim could easily have retired with laurels, basking in the light shining from Farmer’s halo. But though the Partners in Health workers I know are of exceptional integrity, that’s because they’ve mostly shied away from administering neoliberalism.

In short, if you want a world without poverty and you think scraggly old WB can be botoxed into a beautiful ally, then you are certain to soon feel just as jilted as you did three years ago, the last time a pretty politician made out with you and, if you were an ordinary US citizen, stole your vote with zero payback, and if you were not, blew away any illusions that a US president could do the world any good.

Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za), which on Wednesday hosts a debate on the Bank presidency

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