Global Ethics Corner: Is the World Bank Outdated?

Apr 20, 2012

With the election of another American to head the World Bank, some are questioning the institution's legitimacy and role in the world. Since once-impoverished nations are driving world economic growth, should the developing world have a greater say in the bank's governance?

The World Bank is making headlines for a rare turn of events: For the first time, America's nominee for World Bank president faced international competition.

The United States has always determined the president of the World Bank, just as Europe has always decided the head of the International Monetary Fund. But this year, surprise challenges by one contender from Nigeria and another from Columbia had many analysts rooting against the American candidate. Both have experience in government and finance—experience the American candidate lacked. In the end, however, the American candidate won, calling into question the legitimacy of the World Bank's selection process and the bank's role in the modern era.

The World Bank was founded to allocate post-World War II reconstruction funds. It has set its sights on alleviating global poverty. But global poverty has changed dramatically in recent decades. Once-impoverished countries like Brazil, India, and China are now driving world growth. Although they still grapple with income inequality, these counties are major lenders in their own right, lending billions to developing countries that might otherwise turn to the World Bank.

Many emerging economies are thus no longer dependent on the World Bank. In fact, it's the World Bank that's dependent on countries like China to fuel its lending. In many ways, the tables have turned.

Still, the United States remains the World Bank's largest contributor. Some say it's only fair that the U.S. should have the greatest say in how the bank is run. Others are calling for reform to reflect recent power shifts. Without it, they say the World Bank is doomed to irrelevance.

What do you think? Should emerging economies have more say in how the World Bank is run? If so, what reforms would you recommend?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

"Kim for president," The Economist, April 16, 2012

"Candidates for World Bank president must debate each other publicly," Oxfam International, March 30, 2012

Laurie Garrett, "Dr. Kim and the World Bank's Health Role," Council on Foreign Relations, April 13, 2012

Annie Lowrey, "U.S. Candidate Is Chosen to Lead the World Bank," The New York Times, April 16, 2012

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
Ryan Rayburn/World Bank
Executive Office of the President of the United States
Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum
Sonya N. Herbert
Tommy Gildseth
Ken Banks
Wu Zhiyi/World Bank
Ryan Rayburn/World Bank
Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo/World Bank

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