Well folks today is the day.
It seems that the unnamed “A Bank Insider,” the most frequent poster to this blog, has taken off the gloves, with his declaration — not even couched as a prediction — that a Kim presidency would be “ineffective and tarnished” and would mean that the process in “now completely tarnished.”
So let me add a few words on behalf of those who have felt the process has been “completely tarnished” all along. I’m dragging out the overused “progressive” label as a convenience to describe those in NGOs/civil society who have been advocating for reform (or in some cases abolition) of the World Bank for many years.
For us, whichever way the decision goes represents a partial victory. If Ngozi is chosen it will be a victory for overturning the process, particularly if the US is defeated in procedural vote. It would change forever the assumptions of how the Bank is run, and hopefully would mean change in the quota system that governs how other high-level positions are chosen.
But it would also be a victory for the status quo.
Leaving aside any protestations that Ngozi would clean house administratively, I’m talking about the level of policy. Ngozi is a full-blown neo-liberal, with, apart from the usual “I remember what it was like to grow up in a war-torn African village” routine, no hint that she would deviate from the standard approaches the Bank has been using, with some gradual improvements, since the 1970s. She has demonstrated this as Managing Director at the Bank (and other positions before that) and as Finance Minister of Nigeria (twice). She made a landmark debt deal in Nigeria that forced the government to pay out $12 billion upfront to cover debts that were not being paid, and were never likely to be, over objections from the legislature and civil society that no real consultation was offered. She imposed the sudden withdrawal of the controversial fuel subsidy in Nigeria a few months ago, again with little consultation (and make no mistake: it is controversial not because anyone thinks it’s a good thing, but because no one knows how to eliminate it without causing extreme pain for the most vulnerable.) Process victory, Policy status quo. This would explain why Bank insiders (especially those who would only see Kim’s selection as confirmation that the process in dubious) might be more comfortable with her.
If Jim Kim is chosen, especially if it’s a landslide vote with Europe and others falling into line behind the US, it would be a complete defeat for process reform. But it would be a victory for anyone who ever dared dream that the Bank would be headed by someone with a record of opposition to the Bank’s market-fundamentalism. There’s no way to predict how Kim would perform as president (I just had occasion recently to look back at predictions about DSK when he took over the IMF – the FT greeted it as a complete disaster, and yet he turned out to be the best Managing Director [big fish, small pond] in decades – apart from the obvious problems that forced his departure). But it would sure be interesting to have someone who does not accept the conventional wisdom as a starting point heading the Bank. Very interesting indeed.
As for me, I was pulling for Ocampo, who would have been a victory on both counts. So, I’m resigned to being only partly happy about today’s announcement. But that’s a lot better than any other occasion.