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Meritocracy or plutocracy? Selection of new World Bank president

Posted Feb. 29, 2012 / Posted by: Karen Orenstein

As expected, the current president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, recently announced that he's stepping downThe outstanding question remains -- what will the process be to replace him?

Will it be run according to codes of conduct of the 21st century -- through a merit-based, open and transparent process? Or will the process go according to the 1940’s shadowy gentleman’s agreement that has ruled previous selections -- an agreement that dictates that the U.S. is entitled to a World Bank president of its own choosing, just because, well, it’s the United States?

Friends of the Earth U.S. is advocating for the former approach. I know, I know, crazy-talk. Why hire a president because of her/his experience, background and accomplishments? Hush-hush plutocratic means are the way to go, right? Wrong!

While it makes no sense from a good governance standpoint to demand that the World Bank president be a U.S. citizen, one of the specific individuals who the Obama administration is rumored to be floating for consideration -- Larry Summers -- is a cause for concern in its own right. Let’s hope that these rumors swirling around his candidacy aren’t true.

After all, how could someone who has said that women and girls are innately inferior in science and math be the head of an institution that supposedly puts a premium on women’s empowerment and education for all girls?  (If you think Summers' sexist remarks alone should disqualify him from consideration for the job, you may want to sign this petition, “Tell President Obama: No to Summers at the World Bank!”)

What kind of credentials on fairness, justice, humaneness and environmental integrity -- not to mention basic decency -- can be attributed to a former World Bank chief economist (i.e. Summers) who wrote:

 “…shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?...I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that…. I've always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City….”

We also can’t ignore his support for neoliberal, poverty-inducing policies. This includes zealous deregulation of the financial industry, which in no small part helped cause financial crises in the U.S. and around the world. Summers is a good friend and beneficiary of Wall Street, one hardly qualified to lead an international financial institution with the tagline, “working for a world free of poverty.”

Friends of the Earth strives for a healthy and just world for all. We think that whoever leads the World Bank should too, with a demonstrable record that proves it.

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