Sebastian Mallaby, editorial writer and economics columnist at the Washington Post and a former economics correspondent for the Economist, is a radical centrist. He is someone who strongly believes in the benefits of neoliberalism — but knows that nations at the lower end of the globe’s economic ladder have been repeatedly screwed by those at the top and are frequently and inhumanely forced to grovel for even the simplest tools to move their economies forward.
Mallaby has written compellingly and passionately about the crime of farm subsidies in Europe and the U.S. as well as the inhumanity of not doing more to help those in the worse off nations afford the drugs to help set their people on a more healthy foundation.
Sebastian Mallaby is no doubt the author of the Washington Post editorial today about the race to head the World Bank. Some people viscerally dislike ‘The Bank,’ but as Mallaby (whom we suppose deserved the byline) writes:
It matters who takes over the World Bank, because the institution is both powerful and fragile. It is powerful because it pumps out around $20 billion in commercial loans, subsidized credits and grants each year and because its 10,000-strong staff represents the strongest concentration of development expertise anywhere. The combination of financial and technical muscle has given the bank a lead role in many ventures that affect American interests, from reconstruction in the Balkans and Afghanistan to the campaign against AIDS to the refining of development theory.
Interestingly, outgoing World Bank President James Wolfensohn wanted to stay in his job — but his hopes for that may have been dashed by Sebastian Mallaby’s biographic volume that portrayed both Wolfensohn’s larger-than-life brilliance and monstrousness, intertwined in a complex way that Mallaby argues ultimately served the bank and the cause of global development well.
But Wolfensohn — whom I have heard from several sources — thought that Mallaby’s book would lionize him and set him up for a third term then thought that Mallaby’s book destroyed his candidacy. The irony of all this is that I think that Wolfensohn’s immature and childish hostility to Mallaby after the book was published may have reinforced in the minds of World Bank watchers at the White House and Treasury that Wolfensohn was too mercurial and “volcanic” and had to go.
It is quite a trick to have both the head of the World Bank irritated at you as well as the NGOs who also critique Wolfensohn and the Bank skeptical. I guess that’s what makes Mallaby the radical centrist I think he is. NGOs have called some of the impact of Mallaby’s commentary on World Bank projects and the NGO community the “Mallaby Effect.”
Back to the races. Colin Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick were early favorites to succeed Wolfensohn, but Zoellick is now pledged to serve as Condi Rice’s Deputy at State. That leaves Powell, whom the editorial today endorses for the job:
Departing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell passes them (the tests of being an experienced manager familiar with complex public-sector organizations, a persuasive communicator, and must understand development), but his appetite for the job is uncertain. If Mr. Powell is not interested, the Bush administration should think outside the box.
The candidates whom Mallaby thinks do not pass the test, which he notes in the Post editorial are Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Treasury Undersecretary John B. Taylor, and State Department Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias.
I agree with Mallaby that these three don’t cut the profile of a Wolfensohn successor — and one World Bank official I had dinner with last night tells me that the Europeans may decide to go to war with us if we push Taylor. They really hate him (which may improve his chances with Bush).
But outside the box — two other candidates that have been floated in other World Bank commentary are Bill Clinton and former New Jersey Governor and EPA Chief Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman has just writte a new book titled It’s My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America.
There must be some stuff in Whitman’s book that will give the Bush administration some heartburn; otherwise the book won’t sell. I think that she passes Mallaby’s test. I need to acknowledge that Christine Whitman has just joined my board at the New America Foundation.
The World Bank and the world beyond American shores would love to see Bill Clinton take the job — but I don’t think he’ll do it. My World Bank friend here last night said that Bush might be motivated to make the offer to Clinton so as to get him out of Bush’s hair and occupy him with issues of low priority to the White House. The other upside for Bush would be that Clinton’s potential World Bank role would weaken Hillary Clinton’s political linkages with New York and compete with her opportunities of pursuing the presidency.
But I’m intrigued. Giving Clinton another big organization, a bully pulpit even. . .If Bush and Clinton are seriously considering this — I think Clinton could use the World Bank in many ways that would upend the White House. But as my friend last night said, the Bank would be forced to cancel its intern program.
But I am with Mallaby on this and think that who runs this important institution matters. Let’s hope that Powell, Whitman, or some other out of the box candidate gets the nod.
— Steve Clemons