Put James Wolfensohn Back to Work


One of the things that few people know about James Wolfensohn is that when he served as Special Emissary of the Quartet in Palestine/Israel matters, Wolfensohn put his own private money on the table to help fund infrastructure and to help Palestinian businesses ship strawberries to Europe. I was in Israel in December 2005 and met an impressive retired Israeli general who was working hard to try and implement aspects of the framework agreement that Condi Rice had then hammered out with Israelis and Palestinians.
The general — who was clearly sympathetic to the need to support the Palestinians and to end the idiotic interventions in and disruptions of Palestinian life and society — nonetheless said that Palestine’s “infrastructure had been wiped out; there was nothing there to work with.” He blamed his own nation, Israel, for doing this — and Wolfensohn and others involved at that time were feverishly working on ways to reestablish infrastructure of competent personnel in government, in the private sector, in any part of Palestinian civil society. And thus, Wolfensohn used some of his own money to try and do what he could to just get a competent firm and infrastructure established to stop Palestinian strawberries from rotting and get them on to tables in Europe.
Wolfensohn is a person who doesn’t need to work and doesn’t need to invest in strawberry transport. He doesn’t need to write op-eds about global economic development. He can ignore all of us.
But he’s one of these “big personalities” who wants to make a mark on the world and wants to improve things. In my mind, George Soros is one of these big personalities who wants to do important and admirable things in the world; so too are others across the political divide — like Mark Malloch Brown, Bill Clinton, Jeffrey Sachs, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Zoellick, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and I could go on.
Wolfensohn has just published an oped in the International Herald Tribune in which he describes what he sees as a four speed world. From the article:

We are at a pivotal moment: World economic growth is posting a 30-year high, yet the consensus on globalization is splintering. With $51 trillion in annual global income, we have the resources to eradicate extreme poverty and promote prosperity, but the G-8 and the international financial institutions it controls are struggling to be effective. Unless our institutions keep pace with changing economics, the chasm will continue to grow between rich and poor.
This is because the world has moved beyond the old divides of North-South and East-West. While being more interconnected, it is now rapidly breaking into four tiers of varying levels of prosperity and hope. I call this the Four Speed World.
The first tier are the rich countries, including the United States and Europe, which for the last 50 years have maintained 80 percent share of global income while accounting for only 20 percent of the world’s population. They will continue to enjoy improvements in living standards, but their dominance is being contested by emerging economies.
These emerging economies, comprising a second tier of about 30 poor and middle income nations, have learned how to leverage the global economy. With sustained growth at 7 percent or more per year, countries like India and China will soon become global leaders.
A third tier — a much larger number of economies, perhaps 50 in all — have experienced growth spurts, but also periods of decline or stagnation, especially once they hit middle income country status.
Spanning from Latin America to the Middle East, these economies have been forgotten by the G-8 leaders. They are neither poor enough to warrant special aid, nor sufficiently large and fast-growing to be major players in global growth. Yet more than a fifth of the people in the world live in these countries.
A fourth tier, a billion people, live in the poorest countries, which continue to stagnate or decline. These countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, gain little from globalization but are among the most vulnerable to its adverse effects, such as climate change and higher natural resource prices. The human tragedy engulfing this group is a huge concern and political challenge to the rest of us.
In the next 50 years, 3 billion people will be added to the 6 billion already on the planet. Barely 50 million will be added to the rich world; most will increase the second, third and fourth tiers.

Wolfensohn is reminding everyone that the world is interconnected, whether the rich nations want to fully acknowledge that or not. Bob Zoellick is in Ghana today and Ethiopia tomorrow because Africa matters to the US and Europe — and we must get serious about remedying a global divide between the hyper-wealthy nations and the hyper poor.
He’s on target. The question is why isn’t Wolfensohn — who has put his own money behind the Palestinians on strawberries, has donated a load of money to try and move progressive thinking forward on global economic development, and is attempting to constructively guide our appreciation for the important role of the World Bank (also in the article) — not being given a “major problem portfolio” to solve?
Europe, the U.S., Japan — the United Nations — should not let people like Wolfensohn sit too long without big challenges because big personalities and cosmic thinkers of his sort who don’t really believe in gravity and predetermined fate are the ones who actually can change the path of the railroad track we are on.
For those interested in some of the work Wolfensohn and others are generating, check out the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings.
— Steve Clemons


10 comments on “Put James Wolfensohn Back to Work

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    “Repatriation, Gaza sovereignty, loans and reparations funds, all positive incentives or negative leverage to help establish better exchange…”
    Again, Gaza can pattern the development for Palestine.
    The assistance program can be there in Gaza, but overall, sovereignty must be undertaken immediately for all parties.
    “General who helped redraw the borders of Israel says road map to peace is a lie
    The man who commanded Gaza and the West Bank from the last day of the Six Day War talks to Donald Macintyre in Tel Aviv”
    “Immediately after the Six Day War, 40 years ago, Shlomo Gazit was put in charge of Gaza and the West Bank. Today, the retired general is in favour of talks with Hamas, describes the road map as a “pretext” for Israel not to negotiate with the Palestinians, and thinks the idea that the US can or should veto a peace process between Jerusalem and Damascus is a “nonsense”.
    At first sight Mr Gazit could be a classic military hawk. A tough, unsentimental man with 37 years in the Israeli Defence Forces behind him, he has never been slow in condemning Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. Yet he enjoys the unique distinction of having, from the heart of the Israeli military, proposed in writing a Palestinian state exactly 40 years ago yesterday – 24 hours before the war had even ended.”
    Listen to the man. Grant people there what all persons want, but add to that an engaged package of economic support to better involve regional states.
    Countries are less likely to attack one another when they vestr capital within each state and do busienss together.


  2. Saifedean says:

    Mr. Murder,
    I am afraid you are missing the point: it doesn’t matter how much money or economic planning you put into Gaza and the West Bank, it will be impossible for them to develop properly as long as they are not an independent sovereign state.
    The vast majority of the world has had their nation states for such a long time, that it is taken for granted and many don’t really appreciate the importance of it, and how essential it is to regulate all aspects of life.
    In Palestine, as long as the PA has no authority whatsoever to do anything, there is no chance it can lead the people into economic prosperity.
    Palestinians do not need more investment that goes up in air when Israel closes the borders, they need a fully sovereign state and then they will build their own economy.
    As a Palestinian, I don’t want a single dime of aid from anyone, if they would instead dedicate their political efforts at ending the Israeli occuaption. Then, trust me, we Palestinians can build our own country without anyone’s help. Heck, Palestinians have by and large built up the majority of Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE and Libya from deserts into nation states. It was Palestinian engineers, doctors, teachers and managers that led the economies of these countries, we can do it in our country.


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    The mistake of Israel has been to play too strong a hand, which in turn incites reactionaries.
    Israel, Gaza, Palestine should all have major capital flowing their way as doorways to the Mid East.
    The kind of high rise work you see in Dubai should be what Gaza develops. It would take other countries acting in good faith to put that kind of capital into the place, to bring it up in the world.
    Think of it as a Bermuda or Dubai, with some big time infrastructure added it could become yet another financial conduit for tax shelters that could then be used to develop Palestine and Lebanon.
    Jordan has the capital to help with that too.
    Gaza first, then use it to develop regional investment. Unless you bring those communities up in a big way you’ll always be cultivating the kind of geopolitical and economic uncertainties that wear at the foundation of security in attracting resistance and terror.
    Repatriation, Gaza sovereignty, loans and reparations funds, all positive incentives or negative leverage to help establish better exchange of values.


  4. dano says:

    I saw and heard Mr. Wolfensohn speak at RAND in Santa Monica not long before he was to leave TWB (fall 2004 iirc) and I was mightily impressed. He talked about his programs, and especially about his program to eliminate rewarding corrupt leaders with more World Bank corrupt money.
    In all the brouhaha about Wolfowitz and his directionless leadership and claimed plan to do the same, I often thought somebody should have written about what James Wolfensohn did both to lead the Bank and to improve it stature during his term. In all the scuffle about the recently resigned president, I never saw anything about the integrity and good business leadership of the honorable Mr. Wolfensohn. (In fact, Steve, I thought you should have been the one to write such a piece.) Am glad to finally see something here about him.


  5. ET says:

    Sounds a bit like Thomas PM Barnett and his “Pentagon’s New Map” and “Blue Print for Action” with the core/gap theis.


  6. Saif says:

    Wolfensohn’s efforts on Israel/Palestine are perhaps the best example of how good intentions can not get you too far if you are not willing to be honest in your analysis. To think that things in Palestine can be made better by exporting strawberries is very naive, to say the least.
    There is a clear political problem in Palestine: occupation. In order for the Palestinians to have a semblance of a good life and any hint of economic development, the occupation needs to end. No matter what nifty Chinese technology you apply at the border crossings, this will not solve the real problem of occupation, which is at the root of the Palestinians’ problems. No matter how many little details you try to ameliorate this will not change the reality that occupation makes a good life impossible.
    To waffle around trying to find technical solutions for small problems while trying to ignore the real big problem is at best futile, but probably counter-productive as it deludes people into thinking that something is being done, when the reality is that the real problem is just being entrenched further.
    In apartheid South Africa, the world was not trying to find ways for blacks to sell their strawberries in Europe, the world acted to end apartheid. That was what worked. The same needs to be done to Israel and the occupation. A million Wolhensohns trying to sell the strawberries of Jo’burg in Europe would never have ended apartheid and would never have done anything to the poor children of Jo’burg.


  7. Carroll says:

    Sounds like Wolfenshon might be the man for the Isr-Pal job.
    But even better, why can’t we have a Wolfenshon commission on Isr-Pal like the Baker commission on Iraq? Put together Wolfenshon, Baker, Brzenzinski,…maybe Chaffee and Gen Clark ( if he isn’t running)..and even Soros. I think they would be a good mix.
    I am not hot on Clinton being part of any Isr-Pal deal. He might have some “good will” value on the Israeli side but Hillary’s political position throws him out of the running for that sort of thing to me. Besides I read the Clinton Plan over on Levey’s site and it looked like nothing but “talking points” for each side to me. Clinton is too much of a people pleaser.
    We need the cold light of day ones like Baker especially to hold all the little feet to the fire.
    Someone who will say here is “the original map” and that is where the “bargining” will start….neither side gets any pre bargining concessions or anything writ in stone. To get anything not on the map they are going to have to give to get and come up with some buy outs.


  8. ... says:

    steve, thanks for being a voice of hope in a bewildering world and telling us about worlfensohn. i agree with the above post that this microcosm is taking place inside america and europe as well – 3 or 4 tiers in terms of wealth and who has it and who doesn’t and nothing is being done at home either. many services continue to erode for the middle class which is an endangered species as i see it. i think capitalism has some major drawbacks and i think that is what we are seeing. thanks for your articles.


  9. liz says:

    Steve, while I agree 100% with the post and Mr. Wolfensohn’s work, does anyone want to stop and realize that Americans are in need of this same type help now? Our government has abandoned many of us. Our problems are not all the same but all point to the same larger problem. America can and should solve problems at home before trying to solve other nations and people’s problems. That is called LEADERSHIP> like leading by example. I know I know …. what a concept.


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