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The American nominee Jim Yong Kim was selected as the president of the World Bank, over the Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, above. Michel Euler / AP Photo
The American nominee Jim Yong Kim was selected as the president of the World Bank, over the Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, above. Michel Euler / AP Photo

World Bank candidate Kim may prove less illuminating than a lamp post

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.

The selection of the American nominee Jim Yong Kim as the 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 US propaganda machine for Mr Kim, who travelled to many capitals worldwide with US Treasury support and promises of American largesse, surely biased the vote against Ms Okonjo-Iweala.

And, after all, the World Bank is a donor institution. So potential borrowers such as India and Mexico, which should have voted for Ms Okonjo-Iweala, acted prudently and voted for Mr 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 Mr Okonjo-Iweala, with her enormous competence and renowned wit, would have got the better of Mr Kim. The world would also have seen why so many of us were rooting for her.

Again, the worldwide influence of the powerful liberal media in the US should not be underestimated. While The Economist backed Ms Okonjo-Iweala, The New York Times endorsed Mr Kim. This is an election year in the US: if the president Barack Obama had nominated a lamp post, America's "newspaper of record" would have found it to be possessed of excellent credentials.

Moreover, one must recognise that Ms Okonjo-Iweala was undercut by the candidacy of Josť Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister of Colombia, who was backed by Brazil.

His candidacy made Ms Okonjo-Iweala look like a regional "African candidate", while Mr Ocampo was the "Latin American" candidate.

Brazil should have worked with India, Mexico and South Africa instead, to produce unified support for Ms Okonjo-Iweala. When Brazil did move in that direction, it was too late to make any difference.

And now one cannot suppress the thought that Mr Kim's election could turn into a disaster for the cause of development.

His tirade in 2000 against the liberal reforms that have transformed countries such as India and China into global growth engines, reduced poverty, and benefited marginalised groups shows he lacked good judgement on fundamental issues. No one recalls any expression of regret by him, which suggests he persists in such folly.

But my fear is Mr Kim would be a disaster even on healthcare issues - an area where he has rightly earned credit for his work on Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis. Thanks to the economic growth that resulted from the reforms he denounced, countries such as India and Brazil now have higher revenues to spend on health care for the poor, among other public goods.

As a result, the public-health questions Mr Kim will face at the World Bank are very different from the "big" diseases with which he dealt in the past.

* Project Syndicate

Jagdish Bhagwati is a professor of economics and law at Columbia University and a senior fellow in international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, and in October will publish (with Arvind Panagariya) a book on India's reforms

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