Why Robert Zoellick Is Not a Good Idea for the World Bank

It’s looking

as though Robert Zoellick is going

to be nominated to be the next president of the World Bank. According to

Bloomberg, he would be nominated for a full five-year term, rather than serving

out the last three years of Paul Wolfowitz’s term. And, crucially,

he has the support of the Germans.

Zoellick would have been a much better choice than Wolfowitz two years ago,

when he was certainly on the shortlist of contenders for the job. But it’s not

two years ago any more, and the United States can and should do better.

Why is Zoellick not a great candidate? First and foremost, he has no demonstrated

ability to run an organization of the size and complexity of the World Bank.

Yes, he was US Trade Representative for a time, which is an important position

with a reasonably large staff. But it’s doesn’t really compare.

What’s more, as USTR, and before, Zoellick was best known for pushing bilateral

free trade agreements over any attempts to get the global Doha round of trade

talks to go anywhere. That was good for the US, but bad for the world as a whole:

Zoellick is more of a unilateralist than a multilateralist.

Zoellick is also not a diplomat, and has no obvious ability to cut through

the bureaucracy of the Bank and bend its board to his will. As deputy secretary

of state he was famously marginalized to the point at which he resigned in frustration,

taking instead his present job at Goldman Sachs.

Finally, Zoellick is not in any sense an expert on development issues. He cares,

I’m sure, about the plight of the world’s poor. But good intentions are not

enough: the Bank needs someone with real expertise. And that, he lacks.

In fact, Zoellick really has no qualifications at all for this job, beyond

an understanding of international finance. What’s more, I’m quite sure that

the Bank’s staff are well aware of his limitations, a fact which in itself will

limit his ability to effect change. It will be depressing indeed if he’s railroaded

through by the US and Germany.

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