Stephen Foley: Why I'm backing Sachs for World Bank president


US Outlook You have to admire the chutzpah of Jeffrey Sachs, campaigning to be the next president of the World Bank through the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The famed economist says it is time to stop appointing superannuated American bankers and politicians to the post, and put in an expert on tackling poverty and promoting sustainable development – the ultimate goals of the World Bank's lending mission.

His pitch – under the not-too-subtle title, How I Would Lead The World Bank, in the Post yesterday – is perfectly timed. The Obama administration is loath to give up the tradition of having an American in the top job at the bank (part of the founding compact at Bretton Woods, which reserved the leadership of the International Monetary Fund to a European). Yet it is sensitive to the charge that the tradition is anachronistic in the modern, multi-polar world, and that to be sensitive to the needs of developing nations, developing nation candidates should be considered for the presidency.

Through his Earth Institute at Columbia University, and as an adviser to the United Nations on its Millennium Development Goals, Professor Sachs is indeed one of the foremost experts on tackling poverty in a globalised world – and he has calculated that he is sufficiently different from candidates past to mollify emerging countries despite being American.

Which isn't the same thing as saying he would be the best candidate. He remains an experimentalist and a controversial figure. His proscriptions for meeting the UN's development goals through village-by-village aid, by going in and helping improve crop yields and offering micro-finance and a host of other teachings, may prove no more effective than less costly interventions. People also shouldn't forget his recommendation of "shock therapy" for the Russian economy after the fall of Communism, which resulted in iniquitous privatisations and untold human suffering. Such are the debates over the best way to intervene to promote economic development.

But I'll sign on to a campaign in favour of Jeffrey Sachs. The World Bank is more than a taxpayer-funded aid agency; it is a political creature and it is a bank and there should be no shame in appointing a politician or a banker, from the US or elsewhere. But Jeffrey Sachs for chief economist of the World Bank – that might fly.