Change and Continuity at the World Bank

Change and Continuity at the World Bank

Reforming Paradoxes of Economic Development

Peter J. Hammer

This fascinating book examines the World Bank’s capacity for change, illustrating the influence of overlapping political, organizational and epistemic constraints. Through comprehensive historical and economic analysis, Peter J. Hammer illuminates the difficulties faced by recent attempts at reform and demonstrates the ways in which the training and socialization of Bank economists work to define the policy space available for meaningful change.

Chapter 9: Bank evolution since Wolfensohn

Peter J. Hammer

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, financial economics and regulation, international economics


James Wolfensohn was a hard act to follow as World Bank President. By the time he left the post, Wolfensohn had given the Bank a “human face” and “a dream of a world without poverty,” and in altering the institution’s priorities to emphasize building institutions, improving governance, enhancing the voice and participation of the poor, strengthening the rule of law and stamping out corruption. Since his 2005 departure, the Bank has seen the completed terms of two Presidents – Paul Wolfowitz (2005–07) and Robert Zoellick (2007–12) – and the beginning of a third, Jim Yong Kim (2012–). In the United States, power at the White House and the Treasury Department has transitioned from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. The Wolfowitz Presidency was marked by external and internal controversy and the consequent inability to make any lasting impression on the institution. Crisis management and steady, pragmatic leadership were the hallmarks of Robert Zoellick’s tenure, dealing first with the turmoil of the Wolfowitz years and then the onslaught of the Global Financial Crisis. These were not years of radical shifts or the introduction of big new ideas. That said, Zoellick introduced an era of pragmatism that ironically may permit some of Wolfensohn’s reforms a better chance to make a lasting impact, although not necessarily in the forms originally envisioned. Obama’s surprising nominee Jim Young Kim, a physician and anthropologist with substantial expertise in global public health, inherits an institution still largely bound by the epistemic constraints of econo- mists in a still uncertain and increasingly multipolar world.

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