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Thesis & Antithesis

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greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

04 June 2005

Wolfowitz @ World Bank

On June 1, Paul Wolfowitz assumed the helm at the World Bank. Although his nomination raised plenty of eyebrows internationally, his inauguration was greeted mainly with advice—with suggestions about the World Bank’s priorities and the needs of the developing world.

The current development landscape features two novelties. One is that the international profile of the development cause is prominent—Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, is only the latest of visible public figures to make development in Africa a top priority; the other is that the available knowledge and expertise on development has proliferated widely, helping policymakers make more educated decisions about what works and what doesn’t.

Against this background, Mr. Wolfowitz has to forgo his traditional preference for strategic thinking. Mr. Wolfowitz has a very clear strategic vision of the world—but in the World Bank, his tactical and managerial skills might be more needed. Although the well of development knowledge has not run dry, there is plenty there to run the Bank efficiently and make a big difference for the world’s poor. The one exception would be on the link between peace and development—this is an area where the politics of help have been left behind; one can hope that Mr. Wolfowitz’s interventionist instincts could be summoned to underwrite the peace and stability necessary for economic growth to take place.

At the same time, the firmness of Mr. Wolfowitz convictions should be an asset at the Bank. His outlook is essentially liberal, built on the Wilsonian tradition of peace, democracy and free markets. It would behoove Mr. Wolfowitz to be uncompromising in his attitude towards skeptical leaders who fear liberalism. His often undiplomatic tone could help too, if used prudently and in moderation. Development, like international politics, is not always a popularity contest; both often require tough choices to be made and people being told what they might not want to hear. Mr. Wolfowitz should be well placed as the herald of such messages.

In the end, Mr. Wolfowitz’s possible ten-year term would happen to coincide with the end-date for the Millennium Development Goals. This would make his presidency more straightforward to assess; but it is possible that regardless of what happens on that end date, Mr. Wolfowitz could have transformed the World Bank, particularly if he instilled the perspective of an international mastermind on the workings of the development world.

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