Economic Interests

If you owe the bank £100, that's your problem. If you owe the bank £100 million, that's the banks problem.

New World Bank President

Barack Obama and his candidate Mr Kim

So the World Bank has chosen its new president. The race was really only between two candidates, one an experienced finance minister for her country and a past managing director of the World Bank itself, the other a head of a university whose largest achievement has been as head of the HIV/AIDS department of the World Health Organisation – impressive but not the CV required for a president of the World Bank. Yet guess who won?

It was the less experienced American candidate, Jim Yong Kim. This shouldn’t be such a surprise however, for the last 70 years the position has always gone to an American, just as the top IMF position has always gone to a European. This comes from an organisation that prides itself on helping poorer countries become more democratic and less based on filling positions with friends or family, hypocrisy at its worst.

Now was the time archaic tradition could have changed, as a non-American could truly be described as the more qualified candidate. Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has experience in government, economics and finance and has managed to make progress in Nigeria’s finances – rescheduling debt payments and improving transparency. This sort of experience with a developing country could have helped the World Bank in making progress in these countries. Mr Kim however was chosen by Barack Obama to be America’s candidate and backing of the institution’s most influential partner has seen him awarded the job. It would have been a major surprise if Barack Obama hadn’t pushed an American candidate through on an election year and there are arguments that only an American could raise the capital from the USA that finances the World Bank. The choice to pick Mr Kim (born in Seoul) has also helped the USA blossom its relationship with South Korea, one of America’s biggest supporters in Asia.

Nigerian Candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the better option?

The main problem is that no-one really knows Mr Kim’s intended policies; he has held no public discussions. Some point to a book he wrote in 2000 “Dying for Growth” where he argued that growth and corporate profits only worsen the lives of everyday people, a point of view that heavily contradicts the current policy of the World Bank – to promote growth and investment. Others suggest he advocates a focus on smaller demographic groups e.g. the poor and unhealthy rather than focusing on the bigger picture; changes in education, healthcare and justice.

In the end we will have to take solace in the fact that for once, the contest was actually a contest.


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