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Ed Luce: Obama Made the Wrong World Bank Call

I find it impossible to disagree with Ed Luce:

Obama made the wrong World Bank call: Every now and then something crystallises how rapidly the world is changing. Last week’s nomination by President Barack Obama of Jim Yong Kim as the next president of the World Bank presents one such moment. The story ought to proceed by tradition – a US president chooses an American for the top job and the other big shareholders fall into line. The chances are that the gentleman’s agreement will be upheld: the Europeans have even more to lose than the US by ending their duopoly over Bretton Woods (France – oops, Europe – gets to appoint the head of the IMF)….

Were the process genuinely meritocratic – if the World Bank board was required to find the best-qualified candidate for the job – Dr Kim would be unlikely to find himself on a shortlist of three. In contrast, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the only African in the running, would be among anyone’s top picks. But the process doesn’t work like that. In spite of Mr Obama’s internationalist aspirations, fear of a domestic backlash clearly weighed even heavier on his mind. Here are three reasons why he should open up the process and release Europe from its pledge.

First, it is in America’s national interest to do so. Not only should the US support meritocracy, as its national creed demands, it should be conspicuously seen to support that principle….

Second, by America’s own criteria, it should cast its vote for Ms Okonjo-Iweala. According to the guidelines, which were updated by the US and its partners last year, the ideal candidate should have run a big organisation and possess extensive diplomatic and multilateral experience. As Nigeria’s finance minister for the second time, having once been its foreign minister, Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s résumé is strong. She has also been a World Bank managing director – in effect a deputy to Bob Zoellick, the outgoing president – and knows the institution inside out….

Third, the World Bank needs a leader who can stop it from slipping into irrelevance. Dr Kim’s nomination was heavily influenced by Hillary Clinton, who rightly admires his grassroots work on Aids and other diseases. Of course it is critically important to fight them. But disease does not spread in a vacuum…. Putting a healthcare specialist in charge of the World Bank would reinforce America’s focus on what some in the developing world dismiss as “the fashionable diseases”. It is the unfashionable ones, such as diarrhoea, that claim the most lives.

Much has changed since Mr Zoellick was appointed to the job in 2007. While the west has talked about a world recession, China’s per capita income has risen by 43 per cent… African incomes have grown by almost double digits…. The relative weight of the global economy is shifting. But its economic institutions remain frozen in time…. There is still time in this – and future – moments for Mr Obama to take a more expansive view of what would best serve America’s interests.