Kim’s legacy: Is the patient worse off for the doctor’s intervention?

As Jim Kim enjoys his last day at the helm of what he obviously considers an organisation of fairly limited influence, it is a good time to do a bit of stock-taking of our own.

One could of course say many things about the doctor’s reign at the Bank (and I would in fact invite you, dear reader, to do so in the comments section below). Given his proud mention that he had ‘read up one side of Marx to the other’ and his near religious faith in the private sector’s miraculous metamorphosis into a benefic development actor, one hopes he was a more attentive medical student.

He at least seemed to be more engaged in whatever management consultancy books he used to assist him in convincing shareholders to agree a capital increase in the absence of any significant structural changes to the way the organisation works. In light of well-documented concerns within the Bank about the lack of focus on development outcomes and the pernicious impact of counter-productive staff incentives, this seems indeed quite an ‘accomplishment’. Perhaps he is right in asserting that it is the right time to depart and, literally, capitalise on the work he has done in making the world’s most important public bank ever more like one of the private sector firms he so admires.

While much has been written about the negative consequences of his, er… less-than-stellar, management acumen, his trend toward centralisation and exclusion of opposing views, to me the most significant element of his legacy is his energetic contribution in turning the Bank further away from its development mandate and into a poster-child for corporatized and financialised development (if one can use this word here). His contribution to the social, environmental and fiscal race to the bottom (think new environmental and social safeguards) inherent in the Bank’s drive for an ‘enabling environment’ necessary to attract private sector investment ‘for development’ will have a lasting impact.

At a deeper, structural level, his evangelism for the Bank’s ridiculously misnamed Maximising Finance for Development’s (MFD) private sector-first approach has ensured the Bank significantly contributed to the very dynamics of rising inequality, exclusion and lack of state legitimacy many rightly blame for the rise of nationalist and ‘anti-establishment’ parties. Given trends in the world economy, no one should have been surprised by the fact that multilateralism has become so toxic. As they say, “with friends like that”….

While the application of MFD and the resulting de-legitimatisation of the state through privatisation of provision of essential services (witness IDA’s private sector window) has not featured in discussions about IDA and the Bank’s focus on fragile states, Kim will also leave behind a disturbing legacy in this regard.

While I realise he can’t take all the ‘credit’, the good doctor must be given his due for his contribution in ensuring that, as he often stated, the relationship with the other MDBs, including the BRICS Bank (there is a joke somewhere in here about bricks, sinking hopes, etc) and AIIB became indeed one of cooperation among depressingly similar lines. So much for the rise of a radical South-South development paradigm.

The other factor that strikes me, and which I find extremely disturbing, relates to his own metamorphosis. I find it indeed telling that hopes that the ‘Good Dr. Kim’ would prevail and bring change to the ‘Bad Old Bank’ were sadly misplaced. As Kim himself noted, he became convinced of his own previous näiveté (this is particularly shocking given his excellent work as an HIV/AIDS advocate, for which he continues to deserve credit). While I certainly agree that his departure for the much greener pastures of GIP is reflective of the odious ‘revolving door’ syndrome, smacks of conflict of interest, and is therefore highly problematic, I am convinced he believes his own rationale. That is a much more disturbing truth…

One thought on “Kim’s legacy: Is the patient worse off for the doctor’s intervention?

  1. I share Luiz’s alarm about “Cascade” and its image as an instrument for delegitimization of the state (except as regulator and cheerleader for investors), but until the Bank Group does something with private investors other than the Amman Airport, I’m not losing sleep. (By the way, the problem with Amman’s beautiful new, IFC-supported airport is immigration and the government-run security, which would get no prizes for efficiency or customer experience.)

    That said, there’s ample space for private competition in the provision of social services, particularly where state capacity is limited or state institutions are imprevious to reform. The record on water, on education, and on health is mixed, both on financing and delivery. Ultimately, the test on public goods must be whether they are inclusive, and is a nation satisfied with a system–state or private–that leaves anyone behind. Dr Kim’s energies on health, for example, were all over the place, and faddish in the extreme, to the detriment of provision of basis services, advances on universal coverage, and doing the simple things to monitor public health, diseases, and epidemics.

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