Jagdish Bhagwati

Jagdish Bhagwati, a Professor at Columbia University and a leading development economist,  wrote the following letter in yesterday’s Financial Times about President Obama’s designation of Jim Yong Kim to succeed Robert Zoellick as President of the World Bank. He is absolutely right. Dr. Kim is not the right person to lead the Bank, especially in a time of global economic transition, and especially when such an eminently qualified candidate as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, currently Nigeria’s Finance Minister and a former World Bank Managing Director, is available. Professor Bhagwati writes:

“Sir, In your editorial “The right leader for the World Bank” (March 28) you say that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a hugely preferable candidate to succeed Robert Zoellick, but you nonetheless surrender to Barack Obama’s faux pas in choosing Jim Yong Kim, a healthcare expert, as “inevitable”. Whatever happened to the notion that this time around, we would opt for the “best” candidate? But more can be said.

“First, Dr Kim is no more an American than many of us: he was born abroad and is reported to have come here at the age of five. Besides, Americans do not entertain discrimination against foreign-born “intellectual guestworkers”. Dr Okonjo-Iweala has studied with great distinction at Harvard and MIT in economics, has lived in the US for many years, and (I speak from personal experience) she can outwit and outsmart almost any policy economist I know.

“Second, how can President Obama bypass an independent-minded African in favour of yet another agreeable Korean – Ban Ki-moon is another one – and keep a straight face?

“Third, an administration that prides itself on promoting women is sidelining the most gifted woman candidate for this important job. It makes a mockery of the claims that Mr Obama cares for women whereas Mitt Romney will not.

“Finally, and most important of all, the Obama administration mistakenly believes that “development” consists of healthcare, microfinance and other such projects, and not the big high-pay-off “macro-level” policies such as trade. The insidious notion that the former constitutes “development economics” and the latter does not is both wrong and glorifies the less important at the expense of the more important.

“The US government has already put an administrator with a background in health in charge of the United States Agency for International Development: Rajiv Shah. At the same time, it has destroyed Doha and encouraged the manufactures fetish and protectionism, which will cost developing countries far more than USAID’s micro projects will benefit them. Dr Okonjo-Iweala will do both “macro” and “micro” projects. But Dr Kim’s healthcare expertise comes with an uncritical embrace of the charges against “neoliberalism”, betraying susceptibility to the anti-reform, anti-growth rhetoric of the 1990s. Caveat emptor.”

No further comment needed.

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