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Wolfowitz without the ideology 

So the rumours about Paul Wolfowitz getting president Bush’s nomination for the World Bank presidency proved correct.

There will be a great hue and cry, thanks to Wolfowitz’s prominence among the neo-cons. But Bush was always going to nominate an ideological soulmate. What about the other qualifications?

To my mind, the ideal World Bank president would have excellent development knowledge, experience in the developing world and have proven skill at running a large organisation. Overriding these traits, she or he would have a deep concern for helping the world’s poor people.

Wolfowitz is no fool, so I suspect his years in academia and the State Department make him a bit familiar with development issues. Not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, and probably not up to my standard of excellent knowledge.

On the developing world, he did live in Indonesia during his ambassadorship. That’s not a lot, and I suspect he spent more time in comfortable surroundings than out among the poor. But he did live in a developing economy.

He can’t, however, claim any background in running a large organisation. He’s an academic, a policy wonk, an ideologue. Not a manager by any description.

As to where his heart lies, I keep an open mind. In his favour, a European economist friend of mine, who came to know Wolfowitz when he was in Indonesia, reckons he’s not as mad, bad or dangerous as many people think.

I should also note that it’s hard to think of any World Bank president who would have done well on my criteria. Wolfensohn has certainly had his heart in the right place. But he came to the job knowing very little about development, with hardly any experience in the world’s poor countries and with a background running a boutique investment bank. His immediate predecessors came from commercial banking on Wall Street. I suppose Robert McNamara is the closest analogue to Wolfowitz in background, but he had been president of Ford when Kennedy brought him to the Pentagon.

The lesson is that heads of international organisations get chosen for reasons having very little to do with their qualifications. Let’s hope that Wolfowitz rises to the task, however, because the world certainly needs an effective World Bank.

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