When it comes to cozy duopolists, any future friendliness between Thomson-Reuters
and Bloomberg pales next to the selfishness and nearsightedness of the G2 when
it comes to leading
the World Bank and the IMF. No sooner had Paul Wolfowitz
resigned than Hank Paulson was telling PBS that his replacement
would be chosen by the Americans, and it wasn’t long until the Germans chimed
German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s spokesman today rejected
a suggestion by Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck that the
U.S. should consider giving up its lock on the World Bank presidency.
"For the German government, it’s completely beyond all question that
the United States of America will continue to occupy the top job at the World
Bank and has the first choice," spokesman Thomas Steg said at a press
conference in Berlin today.
What’s fascinating to me is that no one seems to be spending any time drawing
the distinction between America nominating the next president, on the one hand,
and it nominating an American, on the other. For reasons I genuinely don’t understand,
it seems to be some kind of inviolable rule that if the US has the privilege
of choosing the next president, it will always choose an American citizen.
Never mind that the result of such idiocies is that you end up with people
like Jim Wolfensohn actually taking US citizenship for no other
reason than to become World Bank president. (Note to self: Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala has lived in America since 1972, and her children are American;
could she do the same thing?) The bigger point is that it’s trivially true that
America’s best interests are not necessarily served by having an American in
the top job — even assuming that the White House is so selfless as to be trying
to serve its own best interests here, rather than those of the world’s poor.
Even if the Americans do show the imagination necessary to nominate a non-American,
however, the process remains fundamentally flawed. As dsquared notes in a comment
on this blog,
Going in for rushed and non-transparent selection was how we got into this
mess in the first place. Replacing Wolfowitz has to be used as the opportunity
to put in place a proper selection process. The WB can function without a
President for a short while, but it can’t go on without big changes to the
top job system. I would be much keener to see an interim appointment of one
of his deputies (or even a real steady-the-ship exercise, appointing someone
like Michel Camdessus pro tem) and taking the opportunity for some real sensible
long term thinking about how to fill these jobs (which would obviously have
to chuck the IMF top job into the pot too as it is only pure chance that this
broken system happened to have its first meltdown at the WB rather than IMF).
The only thing I’d add to that is that the IMF top job (managing director)
— which always goes to a European — is balanced out somewhat by the IMF number-two
job (first deputy managing director) who is in many ways more important, on
a day-to-day basis, and who is, naturally, an American.
I’m not at all sure what a proper selection process would look like, although
there’s no doubt that it would give great weight to the views of the developing
world. But I do know that just about any process would be better than what we
have now, which is no process at all.