Waylaid Dialectic

March 19, 2012


Filed under: Aid — terence @ 7:35 pm
Tags: ,

To my mind the answer to the question whether Jeffrey Sachs would be a good head of the World Bank depends, at least in part, on what exactly the core functions of the head of the World Bank are. What do we really need them to be good at?

If it’s management, I’m unsure. Sachs seems to do alright with the Earth Institute but there are certainly rumours floating around that suggest that he’s not easy to work with. These could just be rumours of course.

If it’s ideas, I think he’d be alright. Although he’s characterised as a big push, ‘aid is always good’ kind of guy, his thought’s actually a bit more interesting than that. And a bit more heterodox than the usual development econ stuff – at least with regards to aid. Quite possibly his ideas could be the spark for some interesting thinking at the World Bank.

If it’s diplomacy, as Felix Salmon suggests it is, then maybe Sachs would be too bombastic. But I’m not so sure. As someone in comments below Salmon’s post suggests, Sachs already does a fair bit of working with developing country governments and seems to be ok at that. What’s more his zeal for the cause would likely mean that at the other end of the diplomatic stick, standing up to pressure from developed countries, he’d probably be excellent. Much less likely to bend to US interests than Clinton or Summers I would say.

If it’s a track record with non-aid related development policy well…until this week I would have said that was something that definitely counted against him. His role in the Russia declarable, and the fact that he’s never publicly admitted to mistakes there, don’t count in his favour. But, on the other hand, he does defend himself pretty well in this debate in the Nation, and Mark Weisbrot, a diligent, smart, left-wing economist makes a good case for Sachs here. So maybe, maybe – on the other hand when I re-read Doug Henwood’s review of the End of Poverty my old doubts returned, somewhat.

Ultimately, the thing that counts against Sachs the most in my book is that he seems far too certain. And, it’s been a long time, I think, since he’s really – in an academic sense – engaged with evidence. Aid is difficult, and while it can work, it isn’t guaranteed to, and despite all the noise from all points of the ideological compass, we’re really not sure what the recipe for success is. My dream aid agency would be one that was openly plagued by doubt – one which wasn’t sure of itself but which let research lead policy (not the other way round as the World Bank was wont to do in the past). And which spent a lot of time and money on evaluations. And which openly discussed and debated it’s failures. For all its past problems the World Bank has seemed in recent years to be shambling in this direction. Which is great – and I fear Sachs would stifle this.

Then again, Larry Summers might too, and who knows with Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, my ultimate answer to whether I’d vote for Sachs at the helm of the World Bank depends on who the alternative options are. I’d take Sachs over quite a few of the likely contenders. On the other hand, were it a head to head match up between Sachs and Sri Mulyani, like Stephen and Jonathan, my vote would go to the woman from Indonesia.

May 17, 2010

China and the World Bank

Filed under: China,Institutions — terence @ 5:44 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve always held the belief that giving developing countries more power on the boards of the World Bank and IMF would be beneficial. And, along these lines, had you asked me, I would have instinctively answered that recent moves to give more power to China on the boards of the Bank and Fund would be a good thing. However, over at AidWatch, erstwhile World Bank staffer William Easterly, provides one very good argument as to why this might not be the case: censorship.

The globalisation of censorship isn’t new (remember the Salman Rushdie affair, or Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to get a book about the British secret service banned elsewhere in the English speaking world). And in New Zealand there was recent controversy regarding the Chinese government reportedly pressuring local council’s in New Zealand not to let Falun Gong marchers enter in their Christmas parades.

But while it isn’t new – the rising economic might of China and density of economic inter-linkages between China and the rest of the World give pretty good reason to believe that it’s probably intensifying. Which isn’t good.

Or, to put it another way: censorship bad; globalisation really freakin complicated.

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