At the end of June, incumbent World Bank President Robert Zoellick will be leaving for good. A lawyer and former US Trade Representative, Zoellick came in June 2007 as a replacement for Paul Wolwofitz whose position had become untenable following the conflict of interest allegations that were levelled against him.
Zoellick will not be seeking a second term, so the post is really up for grabs. After weeks of speculation, President Barak Obama has nominated Korean-born Jim Yong Kim, as his candidate for the world’s most prestigious banking job, just on time to meet the deadline of Friday 23rd of March set by the selection board.
As I write, a list of 3 nominees has emerged: Jim Yong Kim as the American candidate, José Antonio Ocampo of Colombia and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. Several names had cropped up over the past few weeks, among them Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Lawrence Summers, Jeffry Sachs, Stanley Fischer and Indrani Nooyi.
The plain truth is that if Hillary Clinton had wanted the job, all the ensuing waffle would have been pointless. At 64, Ms. Clinton has given notice that she would like to leave the State Department to spend more time with husband Bill and her family.
Hillary Rodham Clinton had been a surprise appointment as Secretary of State, having bitterly contested the Democratic presidential ticket with Baraka Obama. Even more surprising was her accepting to serve. To her credit, Ms. Clinton has been one of the pillars of the Obama administration, acquitting herself with distinction and bringing honour to her country. The World Bank would have been hers for the asking.
There had also been speculation about US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. I was at graduate school with the charming Susan Rice, a Rhodes Scholar, athlete and daughter of the distinguished Cornell economist and governor of the Federal Reserve Bank, Emmett J. Rice. Seen as a rising star in the US political firmament, she is more of a foreign policy and international affairs specialist rather than an economist and banker as such. She is also being tipped to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, which would be more familiar territory for her.
One of the first names to come up was that of Lawrence Summers, former President of Harvard University and erstwhile Chairman of President Obama’s National Economic Council. Having once served as a Chief Economist at the Bank, Summers is no stranger to the institution. However, the mere suggestion that he was on the run for the top job drew a lot of hostility from several quarters.
The son of a father and mother who were both distinguished professors of economics and nephew of two Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson, Summers was something of a child prodigy. He entered MIT when he was only 16, and, at 28, became the youngest tenured professor in Harvard’s history.
In 1993 he won the John Bates Clerk Medal, which is conferred by the American Economic Association on the best economist under the age of forty. Subject to gaffes and misjudgements, he has sabotaged himself out of the race. As President of Harvard, he engaged in a very public stand-off with Cornel West, an African-American philosopher and theologian.
In 2005, Summers also made a speech in which he said the failure of women in the top echelons of science was less to do with discrimination than with “a different availability of aptitude at the high end”. There was also the financial conflict of interest case involving his close friend and associate Andrei Fleischer. He would have been a liability rather than an asset to the World Bank.
There was also the presumed candidacy of Jeffry Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s famous Earth Institute and Advisor to the UN Secretary General on global poverty and the Millennium Development Goals. What was rather egregious about the Sachs candidacy was the fact that he had nominated himself. He said he wanted to shake up the complacency that afflicts the Washington institutions and he believed he had the support of a good number of developing countries. Just as it would be odd for a cardinal to declare his own candidacy for consideration by the Roman Conclave for the august office of Pope, it did not come across very well that Jeffry Sachs was nominating himself for the World Bank post.
A few outliers also surfaced. The indefatigable Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz would have been the most qualified of the lot, if the position was based purely on the weight of intellect. Gadfly and maverick, Stiglitz has kept alive the heritage of economics as a moral science, in the great tradition of John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, Gunnar Myrdal and Nicholas Lord Kaldor.
A former World Bank Chief economist turn critic of the Bretton Woods institutions, the world’s governing elites would not have been comfortable with him as President of the World Bank. There is also the formidable Stanley Fischer, the highly successful Governor of the Bank of Israel and guru of international high finance. Sadly, he would have been ruled out on account of his nationality. Thrown in for good measure was the name of Indrani Nooyi, the India-born American CEO of PepsiCo.