The announcement that Jim Yong Kim will be the next president of the World Bank is positive news for people living in poverty or struggling with illness, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said Monday. Kim’s track record at Partners in Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that he has what is needed to take on a tough challenge, Weisbrot added.
Weisbrot called Kim’s appointment a “rare event, historically” and noted that, despite being a U.S. citizen, he was as least as unlikely to take orders from Washington as anyone that might be appointed from another country.
“There’s just no comparison between him and any of the prior World Bank presidents,” said Weisbrot. “The others were political insiders; they spent most of their lives getting rich or becoming politically powerful, or worse. Kim, by contrast, has spent most of his life trying to improve the lives of poor people.”
“He’ll have battles ahead with the Board of Directors, against Washington and its allies, but I would bet he will have some significant accomplishments to show by the end of his term,” said Weisbrot.
Weisbrot noted that, even looking at the appointment from the viewpoint of U.S. politics, it was an anomaly. “Many millions of people who voted for President Obama had great hopes that he would appoint someone like Kim to a cabinet position, but it didn’t happen.” He compared Kim’s nomination to President Obama offering Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman the position of Secretary of the Treasury.
Weisbrot added: “The Bank has often tended to prioritize corporate interests, and historically the U.S. has used the Bank to promote its own political and economic agenda. Kim can help limit the damage that the Bank does, and steer some money into positive projects that improve health and education.”
Weisbrot noted that “Kim fought tenaciously at the WHO to get treatment for 3 million people for HIV/AIDS. This is the kind of leadership that will be needed at the Bank.”
This year was the first time in the Bank’s 68-year history that countries besides the U.S. have put forward candidates for the World Bank president. Developing countries nominated two candidates, Jose Antonio Ocampo, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who competed openly against Kim for the position. Several developing countries broke Washington’s monopoly on the selection process by nominating economist and health expert Jeffrey Sachs at the beginning of March. Sachs withdrew following the announcement of Kim’s nomination, throwing his support behind Kim.
“This could be the last time the U.S. gets to pick the World Bank president,” Weisbrot said. “But it is truly good fortune that Kim was the choice this time.”