An activist’s view of why Jim Yong Kim reflects change–via Professor William Easterly

NYU’s Bill Easterly, whose early alliance with CGD’s Lant Pritchett and other critics of Jim Kim has moderated over the past few weeks, has posted an important and carefully-reasoned contribution in defence of Dr Kim, and why Lant and his fellow travelers have it wrong.

Gregg Gonsalves, a long time AIDS activist and an Open Society Foundations Fellow, points out that traditional economists are backing the status quo, a top-down approach to development, informed by theory and academic practice.  It is not an incorrect approach, but an incomplete one. He posits that there are

economists who recognize that their field is contingent, more inexact, and are raising serious questions about the rigor of their assumptions, about over-reliance on models, the need for a far better quality of evidence, far beyond the sub-specialty of global development.  These are the kinds of people, the fresh voices and thinking, one could see coming to the Bank under Kim’s leadership.  Kim is also trained as an anthropologist as well; he knows there a variety of tools with which to see the world as long as you know their limitations.

Without taking a position on the certitude that Pritchett and others have expressed over the last few weeks, on blogs and in articles responsible magazines have picked up, it’s also fair to say that Ngozi and Ocampo are both more in the orthodoxy of top-down development economics, something both their records as ministers would make them comfortable with and likely to pursue were either of them appointed World Bank president.

That Ngozi and Ocampo not been more critically assessed by the punditocracy, who all say they want change, is easier to understand when placed under Gonsolves’ thoughtful lens.

13 thoughts on “An activist’s view of why Jim Yong Kim reflects change–via Professor William Easterly

  1. It is a clear choice between a career politician and a professional champion of public health
    that is of great relevance to both developed and developing nations. There can be doubt about
    the primary role of public health in today’s world, and which candidate has the best credentials to serve the developing nations in instituting primary-health-care projects at the
    village level. Just on professional-merit consideration, Dr. Kim deserves to be the winner.

  2. where were the economists when the global economic meltdown hit the whole world and the effects are still being felt by the whole world.what have they done and what are they doing now to help nations out of the economic crisis? jim yong kim being a medical personnel by profession will know how to channel or deploy the money to get results. what we want are results. Remember the world is sick economically so,we need a surgeon who can prescribe rightly the drug to used and that is jim yong. the world bank is about humanity so jim yong constituency is all about HUMANITY.

    He will use his training to help the sick nations out of their ungly situations

  3. I think many of us were surprised about the level and tone of the debate about Jim Kim’s candidacy, and the attacks heaped on those who believe he’d be a great appointment, and will do a wonderful job.

  4. Hi, there.
    So, I don’t hate economists. I admire many of them and their work has been vital for my own in trying to understand why certain health programs succeed and other fail. In fact, in terms of trying to understand public service provision, I still think the WDR 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People, is a classic and its bibliography a veritable treasure trove of wonderful articles.
    Now as for my post. I didn’t say that anthropology was “correct training” for a World Bank President. I said that Dr. Kim’s training in a social science gives him some perspective on the limitations of various disciplines and their analytical power. I am not quite sure why Michael misinterpreted my statement, though it is a successful way to undermine my credibility for those who didn’t read my piece.
    I agree that the World Bank needs reform and the election process needs a complete overhaul. In fact, if we can fix the governance issues at the World Bank we should move on to other multilateral agencies, which have similarly opaque and anti-democratic mechanisms for choosing their leaders.
    However, the current World Bank election was well on its way before the volume of the outcry sharply increased, in fact, the howls of protest started only after Dr. Kim’s nomination. To have a truly open and transparent process, we’ll need to develop a job description for the post (a real one), a set of criteria with which to evaluate candidates, etc. But we shouldn’t underestimate the difficulty in getting any multilateral agency, which serves governments and states, rather than people, to change.
    I want to defend Bill Easterly here. I don’t think he supports top-down economics, in fact, anyone who has read his book, White Man’s Burden, will know he hates the planners sitting far away from the field imposing their views. Bill supports local solutions by searchers on the ground, figuring out what works in specific contexts. That being said, the man is human and sometimes he doesn’t live up to his own ideals, just like the rest of us.
    In this case, I think Bill, Lant and many others in development economics and finance have uncritically rallied around the non-Jim-Kims because he is not one of their own, is not from their tribe, and may upset long-established hierarchies and pecking orders in the field. It’s a fear-based response in some sense.
    Some have said Dr. Kim doesn’t have the CV for the job, well, the Bank has had non-economists at the helm several times over its history. One of the trained economists/MBAs at the helm, Robert McNamara also presided over the Vietnam War (making statistical predictions by the way that we were certain to win the war due to attrition in the Viet Cong ranks).
    President Obama and President Clinton–two chief executives, current and former, of what is a substantially larger institution that the World Bank–think that Dr. Kim has the chops to lead the Bank. He was an unconventional choice–do you think Obama is that cavalier about his decision-making that he would have put someone forward who he didn’t think could do the job. Do you truly think President Obama and his advisors, including Secretaries Clinton and Geithner, went into this without knowledge of what the post requires or a rigorous assessment of the qualifications of Dr. Kim?
    I haven’t seen any real critical analysis of the other two, now one remaining, candidates from Bill, Lant, Michael or others beyond the snark of the “wrong passport” line in Lant’s CDG post. Doesn’t it seem important that we understand both the strengths and weaknesses of all the candidates? Bill and Lant and others have single-mindedly harped on what they perceive as Dr. Kim’s weaknesses in a way that has become remarkably over-the-top: this morning Bill Easterly compared Jim Kim to Sarah Palin in the Washington Post. Really?
    I am not a banker or economist. However, bankers and economists have tremendous influence in our society. It’s not public health types that are sweeping in and out of the West Wing or #10 Downing Street. As Keynes said in 1935, economists have inordinate power to shape our futures and they still do.
    I am not making a case by authority, by virtue of my degrees, training or expertise. I am no match for the professors and Nobel Prize winners, the editors of the august publications that have come out against Dr. Kim. I guess all of this should be left to the experts, the economists and masters of finance, the planners who have the proper credentials to plot our future. However, I would ask that they not speak so loudly about democratization, or be a bit clearer that they mean to support an indirect sort of this mode of governance, where the right people get to weigh in and the rest of us follow along in the newspapers.
    I think the Bank needs change. I think Dr. Kim offers a once-in-a-generation chance to bring change to the institution. Even some of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s supporters have said she isn’t likely to bring change to the Bank and is the consummate insider, even if she is a brilliant economist in her own right. To see people who have been persistent critics of the Bank rallying around someone who isn’t likely to rock the boat is depressing but it’s understandable to go with someone you are comfortable with, know well, rather than someone you don’t.
    I didn’t write my piece to say I know better than anyone else who should run the Bank. I have just been appalled by the level of the debate around Dr. Kim’s candidacy, which I think has often been unprofessional and unfair and unhelpful. I also think people haven’t been quite open about their own motivations, have tried to cast themselves as objective observers, when they are advocates in their own right–just like me–for a particular kind of politics and worldview.

  5. The best manager should be the World bank President. Dr. Okonjo Iwela has nothing to show us but corruption in Nigeria and victimization from his base where she assisted President Obasanjo to stop Lagos State fund and also assisted President GEJ to increase fuel from N65 to N97. The developing and emerging economy World need kind-hearted leader not a sugar -coated leader. Dr. Kim will do a better job. Vote for him as World bank President,

  6. I wish you had not ended, Michael, with “two highly-qualified people who transparently have extensive expertise in those areas never had the slimmest chance to win the presidency, solely and exclusively because of their passports.”

    The fractious debate here and in the press suggests that would, in some circles, have made it three. For different “wrong passports”

    I know MDs with public health expertise who have been brilliant managers and leaders in the public sector. I do not hold that single fact against ex-ministers (McNamara) or ex-politicians (Zoellick) or ex-bankers (Wolfensohn).

    Gonsolves’ contribution did not express hatred of economics. It said that, just because two economists were in competition and might not get the job was no cause for economists to be irked. Why? Because, in his view neither economist had, overall, the profile for this important job, at this important time for the World Bank, and for evidence-based, results-focused development.

  7. We should avoid trying to compare expertise in an era none of us remembers; no one is a specialist at everything and not all generalists are qualified for all jobs. World Bank board members are presumably weighing what the remaining two candidates bring to the job that needs to be done.

  8. I’m unsure how to react to this post’s characterization of Bill Easterly as favoring “top-down” economics. Everything Easterly has written in the last decade has been diametrically opposed to top-down approaches. It’s like saying Barack Obama is Muslim. No, he isn’t.

    Gonsalves’ statements, filtered through what you call his “thoughtful lens”, are so strange that it would take hours to write a full rebuttal. I’ll limit myself to the passage you beamingly cite, which states that there are many ways to “see the world”, and thus anthropology can provide correct training for a World Bank president. That is illogical. Painters and poets, too, have fresh and interesting ways of “seeing the world”; that does not mean that they have the training to run a *bank*. I have no reason to believe that Gonsalves has any idea how to run a bank, or what it takes to run a bank. The only thing that is absolutely clear from his post is that he hates economics, despises those who practice it, has never seriously studied it, and thinks it has little to contribute to the operation of a bank.

    I do not hate public health specialists or their discipline, even though I have never seriously studied it. I count many brilliant public health specialists among my friends and colleagues. I think they can effectively run organizations dedicated to providing public health services, such as Partners in Health. I don’t know if one of them can effectively run a large organization whose core operations are complex financial transactions. I don’t know many things.

    What I do know is that two highly-qualified people who transparently have extensive expertise in those areas never had the slimmest chance to win the presidency, solely and exclusively because of their passports. Gonsalves takes not the slightest interest in the fact that he is fighting to ensure that an American runs the “World” Bank for the thirteenth consecutive time. And yet he styles himself as an opponent of “orthodoxy”. I’ll stop there.

  9. Wonderful statement:
    “the opposition to Kim all seems like a strange defense of business as usual from people who have been critics of the Bank in the past”.

  10. Of course Bill Easterly could be right! I myself have held that, in view of the recent financial crisis and on which the most economist were shamefully silent when it was all brewing, and even after, better than a letter of support of 100 economists for a candidate to the presidency of the World Bank, could be a letter of support from 100 of their unemployed or bankrupted victims.

    But that has nothing to do with this selection process supposedly based on merits, unless we redefine merits completely, and in which case, the merits to consider when deciding who is a better candidate, should perhaps also not be written by a meritorious economist like Bill Easterly.

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