The World Bank’s Wrong Choice

NEW YORK – The selection of the American nominee Jim Yong Kim as President of the World Bank, over Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was overwhelmingly regarded as a vastly superior candidate, is impossible to condone but easy to explain. It also points to serious dangers for the unfinished task of development.

The selection process suffered from several inequities and non-transparent features that undermined the United States’ claim to the contrary. Indeed, those claims were of a piece with the linguistic obfuscations that dominate American public debate: just as carpet bombing was called “pacification” during the Vietnam War, today illegal immigrants are called “undocumented aliens.”

Thus, the rollout of the American propaganda machine for Kim, who traveled to many capitals worldwide with US Treasury support and promises of American largesse, surely biased the vote against Okonjo-Iweala. And, after all, the World Bank is a donor institution. So potential borrowers like India and Mexico, which should have voted for Okonjo-Iweala, acted prudently and voted for Kim instead. Her human capital was no match for his financial capital.

In a genuinely open, merit-based contest, the 25-member Executive Board’s deliberations should have been preceded by debates between the candidates. I suspect that Okonjo-Iweala, with her enormous competence and renowned wit, would have gotten the better of Kim. The world would also have seen why so many of us were rooting for her.