World Bank Prez Jim Kim on how to use the market to defeat poverty

Dr. Jim Kim
Dr. Jim Kim

What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘World Bank’? For me, it brings to mind a bunch of a stodgy old economists holed up in office buildings, dictating to poor countries around the world how to run their finances. Indeed just last week, the bank faced protests in Washington D.C. over its support for dams and gas projects across the developing world.

And yet, to hear activist-physician Jim Kim – formerly of Partners in Health and president of Dartmouth University, and now the President of the institution – tell it, the bank is transitioning towards a smart, holistic approach to fighting poverty. Does he believe markets can do harm as well as good? Should growth be prioritized over political freedom or other development metrics? How does he deal with criticism that he’s just a doctor, not an economist? Here’s a recent critical analysis in The Economist of his tenure so far.

Humanosphere’s editor Tom Paulson, who’s known Kim for a while, chatted with him last month about all this and more. Kim notes he was once a World Bank protester. But he now seems to relish the chance to defend his own record and that of the bank.

We also discuss the headlines from this week, including Tom’s rejoinder to critics of anti-poverty advocate and economist Jeffrey Sachs and our look at a new lawsuit against the UN over cholera in Haiti. Don’t miss this.

(Clarification from Tom: Jim actually came to Seattle to speak at the Gates Foundation, but took time out to chat with us. And that guy who broke in near the end to hurry me up was my buddy John Donnelly, a great journalist who now serves as Jim’s press guy.)

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About Author

Ansel Herz

Ansel Herz is a freelance multimedia journalist whose objective is to “go to where the silence is." His work has been published by ABC News, The Nation magazine, the New York Daily News, Al Jazeera English, Free Speech Radio News, Inter-Press News and many other publications. A Seattle native and survivor of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ansel is producer of Humanosphere's podcast, among other things. You can contact him at ansel.herz[at] or follow him on Twitter @Ansel.

  • mike

    it’s depressing to hear a social justice advocate parrot tropes about growth and jobs as the solution (and his deafening silences around redistribution and progressive taxation… even while local elites and the corporations they represent capture so much of the wealth creation in these countries). Stiglitz was right, we are moving toward rich countries full of poor people. Wasn’t Dr. Kim reading all those Liberation Theologians while working with Paul Farmer at PIH? With all that the World Bank has done over the last decades, I’m surprised he wanted the position in the first place.

    Funny that he says the World Bank’s mandate is apolitical. I’m assume Dr. Kim isn’t stupid, and he doesn’t seem like someone who would lie, but I’m not sure what the third option is. Ideology, I guess. The very act of establishing a bank with a mandate to alleviate poverty through job creation, the market, and the promotion of particular macroeconomic policy is deeply political and comes with myriad assumptions about the nature of economics and the beneficence of free-market, capitalist-led growth.

    And all this junk around the “science of healthcare delivery”? My God.. He sees the health budgets of these countries. Why not just advocate increasing per capita public healthcare spending instead of extraneous technological solutionism? Yes, it’s called operations research. We do it. But a serious consideration about evidence-based care delivery should only happen in an environment with sufficient funding on the part of government. Otherwise it’s like arguing about the color of the maternity ward before hiring any OBs.

    To his credit, he reversed the Bank’s (again, extremely political) stance on user fees in healthcare, finally calling for their abolition. Too bad the policy has been a barrier to healthcare access for the poor for decades and has contributed to countless deaths around the world, as the poor have put off necessary care due to cost. I’ve known many of them, and I’ll never forgive the World Bank for promoting these policies, which are still very alive and well at government health centers and NGOs in poor communities. I can think of nothing more short-sighted and problematic as the ideas of “affordable healthcare for the poor.”

    And I’m sure I’d realize these grumblings aren’t entirely fair if I’d just take into account everything else Dr. Kim has said in these topics, but the interview on it’s own leads me to concede the point to Ms. Thatcher. She was right; TINA (there is no alternative [to neoliberal globalization led by the forces of capital]).

    Good questions asked by Tom Paulson, btw. Keep up the good work.

    • Ansel

      Mike, you’ll probably like this piece I wrote about Farmer earlier this year:

      • Mike

        Ah, yes, I had read this article. My hat’s off to anyone who publicly calls out Paul Farmer. (And for all Dr. Farmer’s talk against User Fees, I hear their new University Hospital in Haiti does charge some kind of “registration” fee… Disappointing. Maybe there’s an article there?)

        I hadn’t put one and one together that you’re the author of both. Will take a look at your other work. Always good to hear criticism of global health practice that isn’t between classically trained, neoliberal economists trying to sell a book (Sachs vs. Easterly vs. Moyo vs. Acemoglu vs. blah blah blah). NHS for all, I say.

        Thanks for the tip.