Obama nominates man to head World Bank; noted economist infers that Obama is a fake feminist

by Andrew Gelman on April 7, 2012 · 16 comments

in Politics Everywhere

Via Felix Salmon, I encountered an article, “Obama’s Blunder at the Bank,” by my Columbia colleague Jagdish Bhagwati.

It’s a strange article. I know basically nothing about the World Bank, so my criticisms here are not of Bhagwati’s policy prescriptions but of his abilities to communicate with laypersons such as myself.

Bhagwati begins by criticizing Obama for not nominating a woman such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Laura Tyson, or Lael Bainard: “What, then, does Obama’s choice tell us about the sincerity of his feminist rhetoric? Does he draw the line wherever it suits him?”

That just seems to me like a bizarre remark.

From Wikipedia, here’s the list of previous World Bank presidents:












































































Name Dates Nationality Background
Eugene Meyer 1946–1946  United States Newspaper publisher
John J. McCloy 1947–1949  United States Lawyer and US Assistant Secretary of War
Eugene R. Black, Sr. 1949–1963  United States Bank executive with Chase and executive director with the World Bank
George Woods 1963–1968  United States Bank executive with First Boston Corporation
Robert McNamara 1968–1981  United States US Defense Secretary, business executive with Ford Motor Company
Alden W. Clausen 1981–1986  United States Lawyer, bank executive with Bank of America
Barber Conable 1986–1991  United States New York State Senator and US Congressman
Lewis T. Preston 1991–1995  United States Bank executive with J.P. Morgan
Sir James Wolfensohn 1995–2005  United States
 Australia[note 1]
Corporate lawyer and banker
Paul Wolfowitz 2005–2007  United States Various cabinet and government positions; US Ambassador to Indonesia, US Deputy Secretary of Defense
Robert B. Zoellick 2007–present  United States Bank executive with Goldman Sachs, Deputy Secretary of State and US Trade Representative

Lots of male lawyers and bank executives there.

Bhagwati characterizes his three preferred choices as “vastly superior” to Obama’s choice of Jim Yong Kim. But he never says what’s wrong with Kim, first describing him as “a Korean-American and public-health specialist who is currently President of Dartmouth College” and later writing that “A decade ago, he cheered on the tirades against ‘neoliberal’ reforms that, in fact, were the harbingers of higher growth and lower poverty around the world.”

I feel like there’s something else going on that Bhagwati isn’t saying. I can’t believe he’s so sure this guy is a bad choice because of some statement from ten years ago (no link was supplied so I don’t know what the cheering or the tirades or the neoliberal reforms in question actually were). There must be more reason than this for Bhagwati to feel so strongly?

Meanwhile, Salmon slams Kim for being a backroom appointee (like most of the other people on the above list, I assume)?

Salmon doesn’t label Obama as a fake-feminist, nor does he object to Kim’s reputed history of cheering of tirades. So it seems that Kim is getting it from both sides of the political spectrum.

P.S. Commenter LFC points to this helpful bit of explanation from Josh Busby.

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