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Reinventing the World Bank

MADRID – Robert Zoellick’s announcement that he will not seek reelection as President of the World Bank has focused attention on whether the tradition of putting an American in charge will or should endure. But, legitimate as that question is, it is just a minor aspect of the debate that is needed about the World Bank’s role in the twenty-first century.

During its 67 years, the Bank has outgrown its original design with the addition of an arbitration court and three specialist financial institutions: one for the private sector, the International Financial Corporation; another, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, to insure against political risks; and the International Development Agency, which funds the poorest countries. The World Bank has become the World Bank Group, though its founding pillar, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), remains at its center. And that is the problem.