Stop saying silly things like Dr. Jim Kim is ‘anti-growth’

Analysis

Dr. Jim Kim

President Barack Obama’s nomination of renowned physician activist Dr. Jim Kim to become head of the World Bank is controversial – apparently because he’s both a physician and an outspoken advocate for a particular approach to fighting poverty.

This has led all sorts of development experts — most of them economists — to give at best faint praise to Kim as a “good person” but then go on to damn him for not having the right kind of knowledge and/or expertise to run this institution devoted to promoting overseas development.

Many of my favorite development (economics) experts like Bill Easterly and Chris Blattman point to a book co-authored by Kim called Dying for Growth, in which he and his colleagues “present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

Blattman cites another opponent of Kim’s nomination, Lant Pritchett, who says:

Kim’s views against economic growth and private investment (detailed in his book, Dying for Growth) are already raising eyebrows in the press and causing concern among world leaders.

Oh dear me! The proposed head of the World Bank is “against growth!” Really?

Bill Easterly expresses dismay and astonishment. Pritchett and others argue that former finance minister of Nigeria,  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, would be a better bet. I suppose this is based on Nigeria’s excellent track record of managing its treasury without corruption and to the great benefit of its people. (Yes, yes, I know Ngozi is being celebrated as a reformer — but so was almost every former head of state in Nigeria, and little seems to have improved).

If the development community is really arguing against the U.S. monopolization of the World Bank presidency, that’s a legitimate and worthy argument. But this case being made against Kim sounds a bit strained, since of all recent past presidents he probably has the most knowledge and on-the-ground experience fighting poverty of any of them.

And he isn’t ‘anti-growth,’ for god’s sake. I’ve read Dying for Growth. He and his colleagues are arguing against the kind of economic growth that merely fuels the status quo inequity in many poor countries. It actually sounds a lot like the kind of things Easterly often says, unless I’m missing something.

Here’s a brief rebuttal from Kim at the Huffington Post and his in-depth statement issued by the Administration.

Better yet, here is Amanda Glassman, Pritchett’s colleague at the Center for Global Development, arguing why “Healthization of Development” could be a much better strategy for fighting poverty than those strategies employed by all the economists, finance experts and other typical members of the development camp. Says Glassman:

The U.S. nominee to the World Bank presidency is attracting criticism from those worried about the “healthization” of the development field….  Critics argue that investing in health helps with development, but is not itself development. From this perspective, development is defined as the sustained financing and provision of all kinds of basic services to the population (water, sanitation, roads, justice, education, electricity, etc.) as well as a thriving private sector to support livelihoods, poverty reduction and government revenues.

What this debate is really illustrating, of course, is that nobody can agree on what we mean by ‘development’ — what it is, and what it is not. As a layman, I would say development is basically the desire to reduce poverty and inequity around the world.

And so far, given the recent global financial meltdown and the long-term track record of many development agencies like the World Bank, it may be time to get someone other than a banker, economist or politician in there.

There are good arguments for not appointing Kim, and for ending the American hegemony of the World Bank presidency. Ngozi would be a good pick as well, despite coming from the wild country of Nigeria, as would Colombian economist José Antonio Ocampo, examined in this Wall Street Journal piece.

But let’s stop saying Kim is anti-growth. It’s misleading, and silly.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • John Lekle

    It shows that this writer does not know Dr. Ngozi Iweala very well. Let me point out some things to you: Dr. Iweala is celebrated as a reformer because of her untiring effort at restoring fiscal discipline to a country like Nigeria.

    In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt (US $12 billion) in return for an $18 billion debt write-off. Prior to the partial debt payment and write-off, Nigeria spent roughly US $1 billion every year on debt servicing, without making a dent in the principal owed.

    When she resume as the minister of finance in Nigeria last year, she discovered a fraud in the Nigeria Police Fund, and pronto, she froze the account to halt that criminality. Today, all those involved in that crime are behind bars and on trial. 

    DR. IWEALA IS A GREAT REFORMER RECOGNIZED WORLD OVER.