Inspired by an irresistibly fun-inviting move by Jeffrey Sachs last week, the Jester throws his own bell-embellished version of a hat into the ring for the top job at the World Bank.
How I Would Lead the World Bank
by Jester Sachs
My quest to help end poverty has taken me to so many countries that I’ve caused a noticeable contribution to global carbon emissions. I’ve visited really exotic places such as 7-star hotels, corporate boardrooms, business class on Emirates, and imposing Geneva buildings. Now I’m applying for the job at 18th and Pennsylvania, the presidency of the World Bank. I am doing this in the traditional way by sending my cover letter to The Washington Post.
Unlike previous World Bank presidents, but like approximately 6.999 billion other people on the planet, I don’t come from Wall Street or U.S. politics. I am a practitioner of economic development, an unrecognized genius, and did you know that I’ve also written a few books? My track record is to side with the poor and hungry, though I’m happy to take money from corporations, governments, and rich patrons. My solutions would save all of us — the poor, companies, governments and the rest of us — because I am really just that smart.
I don’t seek the bank presidency because of its financial muscle or in the vainglorious hopes of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The bank’s net disbursements were only about $16 billion in fiscal 2011, which by gosh is a paltry sum, when my calculations say $195 billion a year is necessary to end poverty.
The World Bank is potentially far more decisive than a bank. (Banks, after all, only make multi-billion dollar loans on a regular basis.) At its best, the bank serves as a powerhouse of ideas and a meeting ground for key actors (and musicians like Bono) who together can solve daunting problems of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation. The World Bank should create a truly international meeting of the minds (a point underscored by the fact that its highly esteemed lead economist is from China; so I guess, it is kind of already doing that).
I know what I’m talking about. I have been a trusted problem-solver for a lot of countries, many of whom didn’t even realize I was solving their problems – like Bolivia, for example, which would have descended into a Dark Ages without me, and Russia, which would have done a lot better had they really taken my advice. And then there’s China – they got far by doing exactly what I would have told them to do, if they had asked. My good fortune to see the world through my own perceptive eyes while working on some of the world’s most vexing problems, has allowed me to understand that various regions’ challenges need tailored solutions – an entirely new idea that I came up with. This is why I’ve started exactly 14 Millennium Village clusters – once the right solutions are figured out for those 14 sites, they can be applied, cookie-cutter fashion, to the remainder of the world’s 2-3 million villages, which are more or less exact replicas of those 14. There are reasons why what works well in the United States might not work in Nigeria, Ethiopia or India, which is why I recently wrote that America needs civic virtues, but those other countries don’t.
Yet the World Bank is adrift (for one thing, we’re talking about the institution that once hired people like that rascal William Easterly). It is spread too thin (like peanut butter). It has taken on too many fads (which the Millennium Villages aren’t). It is too disconnected from critical areas of science and knowledge (like my field, economics, which a science, really!). Without incisive leadership, the bank has often seemed like just a bank (amazing, given its name). And unfortunately, Washington has backed bankers and politicians who just don’t take me seriously. Come on guys, it’s time you let me join your reindeer games.
The World Bank presidency should not be a training ground in development – that would imply I might learn something on the job. Its leader should come to office with unshakeable convictions about what to do with flooded villages (like the one I once stepped foot in), drought-ridden farms (like the one I once stepped foot on), desperate mothers hovering over comatose, malaria-infected children (like the one I once spoke to through a translator), and teenage girls unable to pay high school tuition (translator, again). More than knowing these realities, and caring to end them, the bank president should believe single-mindedly in his own infallible theories of their causes and interconnected solutions. In any case, he should not be chosen from a pool of international candidates and through a sensible, transparent process like some have suggested.
Solutions to critical problems such as hunger, AIDS, malaria and extreme deprivation remain unaddressed because not everyone listens to me. Those who do listen include scientists who allow me to take credit for their powerful ideas; powerful bankers with ample finance who give me a little cash to play at microfinance; business leaders with powerful technologies who set up shop in the Millennium Villages; civil society with powerful community roots who fawn over me; and powerful politicians in whose constituencies I have built the Millennium Villages. Did I mention, these folks are powerful? But I also have many powerless friends who are poor, black, gay, female, disabled, and religiously persecuted – all at once, of course – we often hang out over a beer.
Finding the graceful way forward, becoming a part of my grand plan to create global change should be the bank’s greatest aspiration. I’ll stand on my record of having already gone a long way to save the world: to have written about how I would go about it; to have flown in agricultural experts to help farmers in 14 villages; to have flown in public health experts to redesign community healthcare in 14 villages; to make mobile technologies (which are absolutely not a fad) the new edge of development practice; to have accepted donor funds allocated to telecenters (which were absolutely not a fad); to have staved off all those crazy folks asking us to rigorously evaluate our approach; and to have written a book that doubles down to offer a solution not only to poverty but also to climate change.
My role has been to help bring together vastly diverse communities of knowledge, power, and influence to tell them what works in practice and then to bend to the will of my donors.
I am ready to lead the bank into a new era of problem-solving (after all, it’s the bank that should solve developing country problems, not developing countries themselves). I will work with industry, governments and civil society to bring broadband (another critical non-fad) to clinics, schools and health workers, creating a revolution of knowledge, disease control, quality education and small businesses (because dang it, everything else that we’ve been trying has been too expensive). I will work with agronomists, veterinary scientists, engineers and anyone else who is willing to join my cult to build prosperity in impoverished and violence-ridden dry lands. Yes, now I’m going to end violent conflicts, too.
I will work with engineers and financiers to harness the solar power of the deserts (because I learned on my many travels that the one thing they have in the desert is sun) in the service of hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who lack electricity (though how to connect the desert sun to those living hundreds of miles away is another issue). I will work with urban planners, architects and community organizations to help ensure that the developing world’s mega-cities are places to live and thrive like in that cool movie Slumdog Millionnaire.
This and much more is within our grasp, just like I insisted in The End of Poverty. Properly led (that is, if and only if led by Yours Truly), the World Bank can build bridges among science, business, civil society and finance, and also hopefully across the gaping canyon between my underappreciated intellect and my stunted emotional quotient. Let’s, and by that I mean let me, get started.