Change and Continuity at the World Bank
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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.
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Chapter 8: Redefining Bank research within the epistemic constraints of economics

Reforming Paradoxes of Economic Development

Peter J. Hammer


The World Bank is constrained by a series of political, organizational, and epistemic constraints. The examination of social capital and institutional economics demonstrated how real and significant the epistemic constraints can be. Reforms that are inconsistent with the dominant economic worldview of the Bank will not take deep roots and are unlikely to lead to sustained change. While political, organizational, and epistemic constraints close some evolutionary paths, they open up others. If serious reforms were to take place in a manner that was consistent with existing epistemic constraints, what would they look like? An important external review of the Bank’s research during the Wolfensohn years provides interesting insights into this question. In June 2005, James Wolfensohn stepped down as President of the World Bank and was replaced by his controversial successor Paul Wolfowitz. World Bank Chief Economist Francois Bourguignon (2003–06) commissioned an independent, external evaluation of Bank research from 1998–2005. Such reviews are not unprecedented, but they are rare. In 1977, an external evaluation of Bank research was conducted by Sir Arthur Lewis, while in 1983 an evaluation was conducted by Assar Lindbeck. The 2006 evaluation was carried out by a panel consisting of Angus Deaton (Chair), Princeton University, Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University, Abhijit Banerjee, MIT, and Nora Lustig, Director of the Poverty Group at UNDP. This was an all-star cast of development economists, but they, and the entire team of 24 assembled thematic evaluators were all economists. No non-economists were involved. For present purposes, however, this is an asset.

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