Friday, March 23, 2012

The World Bank

Doug Mills/The New York Times
It has been announced that Jim Yong Kim, President of Dartmouth College, is the Obama administrations choice for the head of the World Bank - which means, of course, that he will be the next President of the Bank.  From The New York Times:

Highly respected among aid experts, Dr. Kim is an anthropologist and a physician who co-founded Partners in Health, a nonprofit that provides health care for the poor, and a former director of the department of H.I.V./AIDS at the World Health Organization.

“The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed,” President Obama said Friday. “It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

Dr. Kim, who was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2003, was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1959 and moved with his family to the United States when he was 5. He graduated from Brown University in 1982, earned an M.D. from Harvard University in 1991 and received a Ph.D. in anthropology there in 1993.

This announcement has been met with some surprise (his was not a name mentioned anywhere that I read, nor a name I have heard of before) but overall a lot of praise.

Some, like Felix Salmon, wonder about his qualifications:

Kim has the requisite development-policy background, and also an outstanding professional background, but he’s not a banker, an economist, or a diplomat.

As an economist, my knee-jerk reaction is to want an economist in the job. But, much like a university president, the job these days is a lot about diplomacy (both without and within the Bank). It is not at all clear to me that we should want an economist in the job. The Bank has a wonderful staff of research economists that can both generate a lot of great new research and interpret research that academic development economists like myself conduct.

What the Bank needs, I think, is a very smart person who can be an unbiased arbiter of competing ideas and ideologies. It also needs someone skilled at diplomacy (for which university president is decent training). Having someone extremely knowledgable about global health issues is a particular bonus as the key characteristic of growing up in poverty is the susceptibility to infectious disease - and is the easiest to target.

To me, it sounds like Dr. Kim is a good and inspired choice.  Say what you will about the Obama administration, this is an impressive choice.  Not an obvious political flunky (e.g. Wolfowitz), a crass self-promoter (e.g. Sachs) nor a jerk (e.g. Summers), but an outside-the-box, creative and smart choice for one of the most important jobs in the world.  Bravo.

As an aside, and only because of Dr. Kim's Korean heritage, I will give a quick plug for Adam Johnson's North Korean novel The Orphan Master's Son which is a wonderful and fascinating novel, but an incredibly dystopian and depressing picture of life in modern North Korea.  Still, definitely worth a read.

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