Let’s Play the World Bank President Trivia Game

Robin Broad, guest blogger

Last week, U.S.-nominee Jim Kim was elected to be the next president of the World Bank group.   Some well-known US economists and World Bank “insiders” criticized the choice – and supported Kim’s opponent Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — because Kim is not an economist.  From that criticism, one would surmise that the majority of World Bank presidents have indeed been economists.

But what really do we know about the background of the eleven men (yes, all men) who have held that post so far?  So, expert pundits and readers alike, let’s see how well you do on the first annual World Bank President Trivia Game. Twelve men, so twelve questions:

The first category is education:

1. To repeat: Jim Kim does not hold a graduate degree in economics. How many of the eleven World Bank presidents do have graduate degrees (masters or doctorate) in economics?

ANSWER: None. While you would not know it from the criticisms of Kim, had Okonjo-Iweala won, she would have been the first. She holds a Ph.D. in regional economic development from the MIT.

2. Jim Kim did not major in economics as an undergraduate.  Did any of the other World Bank presidents major in economics as undergraduate students?

ANSWER: Robert McNamara majored in economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

3. At least five of the past World Bank presidents had graduate degrees in what field?

ANSWER: Law. John McCoy, Alden Clausen, Barbara Conable, James Wolfensohn, and Robert Zoellick all had law degrees. Eugene Black received an honorary doctorate in law (from Princeton).

4. How many World Bank presidents held a doctoral degree? Extra credit if you can name the fields.

ANSWER: Paul Wolfowitz holds a PhD from University of Chicago in political science. Jim Kim has a PhD in anthropology from Harvard.

5. When Jim Kim becomes World Bank president in July, will he be the only head of a major bilateral or multilateral “aid”/“development” agency to have a medical degree?

ANSWER: No. Rajiv Shah, the administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a medical doctor.

The second category is professional life:

6. What has been the top profession of the past World Bank presidents? (For comparison’s sake, what is the top profession of those affected by World Bank lending?)

ANSWER: The Bank winner is banking/finance: Eugene Meyer, James McCoy, Eugene Black, George Woods, Alden Clausen, Lewis Preston, James Wolfensohn, and Robert Zoellick. For comparison’s sake, the majority of those affected by World Bank projects and policies are farmers (which is the world’s leading profession).

7. How many of past World Bank presidents began their career as traveling salesmen?

ANSWER: One. Eugene R Black, who then became vice-president of Chase Bank.

8. One of the past World Bank presidents was the publisher of a major US newspaper. Name the president and the newspaper.

ANSWER: Eugene Meyer was publisher of the Washington Post.

9. How many past World Bank presidents previously held top positions at the Department of Defense (or Department of War)?

ANSWER: John McCloy was US Assistant Secretary of War; McNamara was Secretary of Defense; and Paul Wolfowitz was US Deputy Secretary of Defense.

And of course, there is the more personal category:

10.  How many were born in the United States?

ANSWER: Ten. Wolfensohn was born in Australia and Kim was born in South Korea.

11.  How many were not citizens of the United States?

ANSWER: None. They all were US citizens. Wolfensohn is said to have become a US citizen so that he could be eligible to be World Bank president.

12.  How many of the 12 World Bank presidents have done at least one of the following:

(a)   Spent more than one night in a non-air-conditioned bedroom while in the tropics?

(b)  Planted rice (or tried to plant rice)?

(c)   Been with a child’s parent as that child died from either malnutrition or a sickness that could have been prevented had the child had access to food and/or medicine?

I do not know the answer. I hope that, as of July 2012, it will be at least one. Perhaps Jim Kim? And I certainly hope that this is a question that the next World Bank presidential nominees have to answer, and in public. The goal of the World Bank is, after all, to fight poverty. How can one fight it without at some point witnessing, if not experiencing, it?

What is my point? Well, as I would say to my students, a little background research goes a long way.  For the record, I think Dr. Jose Antonio Ocampo – the third nominee who pulled out of the race before the actual voting – could have been an excellent World Bank president. He is an economist with a firm grounding in the real world.  Also, for the record, I have nothing – in theory – against bankers; in fact, farmers often desperately need credit provided by various kinds of financial institutions. But the fact that World Bank presidents have often come from Wall Street should give us pause.  I am actually quite taken with our traveling salesman, who entered banking with only a high-school degree and went to night school while working.

As for Dr. Kim, my point is that the he-will-fail-because-he-is-not-an-economist criticism is totally unfair.  I do hope Kim will carry his wisdom — from his education and his experience – with him to the World Bank and not leave it behind.

Robin Broad is a Professor at the School of International Service at American University and a long-time expert on the World Bank. She worked as an international economist on World Bank issues at the US Treasury Department. She is author or coauthor of numerous books and articles on related subjects including (most recently) Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match. She and her husband John Cavanagh have a regular blog entitled “Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability” on YES! Magazine. For the record, she majored in economics as an undergraduate and has a doctorate in public policy from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School in the field of development economics.

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One Response to “Let’s Play the World Bank President Trivia Game”

  1. Matías Vernengo says:

    In all fairness the World Bank depends on more than its head. Ocampo was important, not so much becuase he was prepared to lead the bank (which he was for sure), but because he would signal a change in the American driven agenda at the Bank. Kim is there to represent American interests, which in the Bank are more complex than Wall Street, and good intentions alone will not do.