a collection of a few possible relevant articles (II): beyond sachs to karaoke and stuff

The discussion on the Bank President seems to have moved to a slightly more productive place now that the nominations are (nearly) out. That is, to humility, insider-ness, and karaoke.


The remaining uber-challenges of development—finding new ways to encourage private sector growth, delivering services in the world’s toughest places, creating incentives for better governance—are all objectives that will require creativity and learning-by-failing. This means finding new ways to encourage innovation and experimentation by staff and clients.

The field still doesn’t understand the development process very well and we certainly can’t predict the impact of various interventions in complex social, political, and economic systems. We need to try, test, tweak, and then try some more.

The head of the World Bank doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room or the one with a ready-made Best Plan Ever… The candidate should be someone with a model in mind that enables risk-taking and iterative approaches. If the World Bank is going to help find solutions to the lingering problems of global poverty and underdevelopment, its next President must be a person that comes to the job with a willingness to experiment and a heavy dose of, dare I say it, humility.


Rather than listening to the Washington Consensus, many developing countries took matters into their own hands at the turn of the century. Since then the developing world has grown faster than the rich, reduced poverty significantly and avoided the worst of the financial crisis that originated in the US. It would be ironic for the US to dictate the appointment at the World Bank in such an environment.


The World Bank is a full-service development institutions that provides loans and grants and development advice to promote development, which is the transformation of countries towards prosperous economies that support broad based improvements in material well-being, democratic polities that respect citizen rights and respond to citizen demands, and capable administrations that allow governments to carry out their core functions—law and order, education, macro-economic management, health, infrastructure, regulation, security.

Therefore an ideal candidate should have:

  • some experience in government and the process of policy-making (as the World Bank’s clients are all governments),
  • some acquaintance with economic policy and policy making—including the tough choices like allocation of resources across uses,
  • some knowledge of finance (it is, after all, a bank that makes income from lending money),
  • some management experience in a multilateral organization,
  • some exposure to the breadth of development issues.


OK, building from this last link — I have held a lot of different views about Jim Kim over the past many years of my schooling and involvement in public health but there are still some reasons why I think he could be good for the Bank. Among them, I appreciate his willingness to not just critique global agencies (WHO, Bank) and advocate for change but to accept positions within them and try to make a change.

However, suggesting that because he is a doctor he understands RCTs and is in support of evaluation is a serious over-reach. In fact, willingness to be evaluated and humility about their model is one of the easiest and most important critiques to be made of Partners in Health and, by perhaps-not-totally-fair implication, Jim Kim (PIH is beginning to try to rectify this – but nevertheless). Jim may have been more open and honest about his time at the WHO and 3×5 efforts, though one hopes we actually can do more than apologize and point out that the odds were against us.

A lot of ink and ego-juice has been spilled about whether the Bank’s past efforts have done more harm than good. Kim clearly leans toward one end of this argument. For policies as large-scale and not-done-in-a-vacuum as the Bank’s, either side will always be hard to prove – or even to consider objectively. However, I think most people can agree that the Bank’s efforts have not always done all the good they were expected to do, even if everyone had been totally committed to honestly appraising them. Which they have not.

In light of this, the list of qualities needed by the next President presents quite a tall order — an awesome manager that commands credibility and trust while also fostering creativity, risk-taking, learning-by-failure, humility — and remaining un-committed to any one ideology, economic or otherwise. To say, “we are going to try this is and we are not really sure if it is going to work,” is hard for anyone – from a mechanic, to hair stylist, to a doctor, to someone proposing to ‘tinker’ with a country’s economic, political, health, and other systems – such as those systems are in place and functioning. But, that is what we are up against. The randomista movement may be an expression of us not “understand[ing] the development process very well” but it still doesn’t fully help us overcome the challenge of “predict[ing] the impact of various interventions in complex social, political, and economic systems” – and eventually we do need to scale-up and that will always be hard to perfectly plan and evaluate (although, could Gary King at least get a small shout-out on this?). That said, a commitment to trying to monitor and evaluate it and a willingness to admit when things aren’t working, and investigating why they are not, is crucial. I think these qualities are something that we need to hear about all the candidates.

And, given the tallness of the order, maybe karaoke skills are really the best we can hope for. It is not the only time Jim Kim has overcome a challenge through karaoke – and I can think of a few countries to whom we probably owe a “Say Anything” moment. So, more on that about the candidates, too, please.

a collection of a few possibly relevant articles (I)


“The tone the president sets matters for the great machinery underneath,” she explains. “They determine in what direction it will grind along, and if it will do so in a way that makes sense. Will there be openness to a new direction and a readiness to admit problems and failures? All that is set at the level of the president.”


http://www.developmenthorizons.com/2012/03/world-bank-economists-need-not-apply.htmlyay for considering non-economists!

There needs to be a better disciplinary balance throughout the Bank—in research and operations. The policy environment needed to incentivise “growth that we want rather than the growth we get”, for example, is not going to be achieved by an exclusive reliance on economists. We need to understand how the rules of the growth game are set and modified if we want growth that better reduces poverty, growth that includes those on the margins of society, growth that better avoids environmental externalities and growth that disincentivises corruption. These rules of the game are rooted in norms, culture, history and many “noneconomic” (i.e. human) behaviours and are best understood and evolved by coalitions of disciplines working together.


To get big things done, the bank needs not just decent ideas from smart economists, but buy-in and cooperation from a diverse array of states. That’s a diplomatic job and a political job, and it’s exactly why the gig rightly belongs to someone with political experience on the international arena. Someone not like Jeffrey Sachs.

a new one (19 March) that is confused as I am about what the president of the Bank actually does – but weighs in on many possible angles: http://waylaiddialectic.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/sachs/

To my mind the answer to the question whether Jeffrey Sachs would be a good head of the World Bank depends, at least in part, on what exactly the core functions of the head of the World Bank are. What do we really need them to be good at?… If it’s management, I’m unsure… If it’s ideas, I think he’d be alright… If it’s diplomacy, as Felix Salmon suggests it is, then maybe Sachs would be too bombastic. But I’m not so sure… Ultimately, the thing that counts against Sachs the most in my book is that he seems far too certain. And, it’s been a long time, I think, since he’s really – in an academic sense – engaged with evidence… My dream aid agency would be one that was openly plagued by doubt – one which wasn’t sure of itself but which let research lead policy (not the other way round as the World Bank was wont to do in the past). And which spent a lot of time and money on evaluations. And which openly discussed and debated it’s failures. For all its past problems the World Bank has seemed in recent years to be shambling in this direction. Which is great – and I fear Sachs would stifle this.


What’s needed at the World Bank is someone who knows development, but who isn’t deeply invested in their own normative ideas of what must be done. Running the Bank involves a delicate dance with extremely important and powerful shareholders who can effectively shut you down at any time… The World Bank is owned and run by sovereign governments, who will talk until they’re blue in the face about how they’re working for the world’s poorest, but who ultimately are not going to sign on to anything which they don’t perceive as being in their own best interest.


The project’s evaluation protocol states, “Issues of feasibility, political buy-in, community ownership and ethics also featured prominently in village selection.” This selection bias alone might have caused incomes at the treated sites to be higher, many years into the project, than incomes at the untreated sites—even if the project itself hadn’t caused that difference. Instead, incomes today are typically the same in the two groups.

There are valid reasons to debate which methodology is best for evaluating the impact of the MVP, and serious discussion of the components that should factor into this decision seem worthwhile. But fallacious statements such as those made in this post by Sachs and Singh do nothing to further the debate nor to encourage others considering large-scale interventions to seriously invest in rigorous impact evaluation.
One must also question what donors like the Soros Foundation and the UN relied on in terms of evidence when deciding to fund this second phase of the MVP project. Either donors are happy to fund such a program based on factors other than empirical evidence, or arguments like those above are misleading decision-making.


The goal of the MVP is to effect long-term change, building “a solid foundation for sustainable growth.”  So whether or not the project is effective can only be assessed in the long term.  That means that scaling up the project before any long-term evaluation would be scaling up an intervention of unknown effectiveness.

But without any such evaluation, the MVP has already called for “the model’s expansion throughout Africa” to affect millions of people. Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute already advocate for African governments to make “MVP-type investments” a “key component” of their national development strategies.  It would be irresponsible to vastly expand an intervention that is not known to accomplish its own stated, long-term goals.


I never picked the phrase “shock therapy,” and I have to say don’t much like it. It was something that was overlaid by journalism and public discussion. It sounds a lot more painful in a way than what it is.


This pessimistic note is confirmed in a vignette about Jeffrey Sachs, the former economic shock-therapy man who re-invented himself as the intellectual avatar of the Millennium Development Project… Gill visits a benighted village called Koraro, chosen to be one of Sachs’s so-called Millennium Villages, which were meant as demonstration projects to prove that foreign aid can really work. He asks a local man whether he has ever met Sachs, to which the man replies, “I have met the owner twice,” which in itself is worth a dozen U.N. development assessments and a hundred NGO field reports. And when Gill himself finally meets Sachs, he discovers that he, too, is grasping at the Chinese straw. “They are doing something,” he tells Gill, “where we are not there at all.” But Sachs also says that “unless the fertility rate comes down sharply I’m running out of ideas.” When Gill tells him that Ethiopia’s population has doubled in a quarter-century and will likely double again in the next twenty-five years, Sachs can only reply that “it is absolutely unmanageable … beyond any of our [development] tools right now.”