Why Not Delay the World Bank Leadership Vote?

Bill Easterly asks a very good question. Jim Yong Kim, the White House nominee to lead the World Bank, has been so busy meeting privately with governments that, unlike the other candidates, he hasn't been able to explain his views on development to anybody else. Time is running out: a vote is due on April 16th. Easterly asks, what's the hurry?

The deadline seems especially unfortunate since [Kim's nomination]  has generated unprecedented controversy, and two credible alternative candidates have been nominated in Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and José Antonio Ocampo.

The Centre for Global Development (CGD) and the Washington Post co-sponsored a forum that would have been an ideal place for Kim to address the controversies. Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo spoke at the forum earlier this week, but Kim declined to participate.

An administration official kindly agreed to speak with me last Wednesday evening about why Kim did not participate in the forum. The official said it was purely logistical: Kim has been constantly on the road meeting member governments, and would continue to be on the road right up until the vote...

So let us grant the problem is simply logistical; that Kim would be happy to meet with his critics in a public forum and address their concerns, but there is simply no time left before the vote on Monday. This leads naturally to the question: what's the rush?

There is universal agreement that the World Bank presidential selection process should be transparent. There is now a historic opportunity, generated by unprecedented and widespread participation in the debate on the respective merits of the three candidates, for this to happen. It is in the interests of the constituents of the World Bank, and of Kim himself, that this opportunity be seized.

By the way the CGD website has reports on the presentations by Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo. Earlier Nancy Birdsall, head of the center, wrote a good memo on what we need to know about the candidates.

Update: Contrasting visions of development are in play in this choice--"Big Development" and "Small Development", as Michael Woolcock puts it in this post for the World Bank's economics blog. Big Development is about entire economic systems. It calls for "wholesale investments in roads, ports, agriculture, education, justice, finance and public health--and, crucially, the corresponding government ministries to plan, fund, implement and assess it all." Lately, though, the other approach has been catching on.

Inspired less by transformational visions of entire countries and more by the immediate plight of particular demographic groups (AIDS orphans, child soldiers, 'the poor') living in particular geographic places (disaster zones, refugee camps, urban slums), Small Development advocates focus not on building systems in the medium run but on compensating for the failure of systems in the short run... The moral animus driving Small Development is the real and present "needs" of the groups in question; building "systems" is all well and good, advocates contend, but it's slow, imprecise, indifferent to context, prone to corruption, and in the meantime people are dying. We need to act now! For critics of Small Development, however, such activities amount to little more than "charity work"; it is noble and laudable work, to be sure, and is certainly difficult and often dangerous, but its net transformational effects are, well, small. Poor, marginalized individuals may have become less poor (or more "empowered") individuals as a result of such efforts, but it's not how any poor, autocratic and divided country became a prosperous, democratic and inclusive country.

These two visions of development are not incompatible, and reasonable people can cast their lot with either one. But the distinction between them matters and has significant consequences for how priorities are assigned, how resources are allocated, and difficult decisions are made.

Kim, it seems, is a Small Development kind of guy. The Bank has traditionally aimed for Big Development. There's a lot to discuss here if the US nominee can find the time.