But now Jeffrey D. Sachs, an economist, best-selling author and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, is openly drumming up support for his own candidacy. Sachs says he has spoken to dozens of world leaders in the past week and won public endorsements from the prime ministers of Kenya, Malaysia, and Namibia and senior economic officials from other developing nations.
Ultimately, the decision rests with the White House, which invariably picks an American. That takes a lot of respected development experts from around the world out of the running. Yet Sachs — who has been advising foreign governments for a quarter-century and who has marshalled support from the likes of Bono and Bill Gates for economic development — hopes that a growing list of foreign leaders familiar with his work will help him get the job.
“There have been 11 presidents of the World Bank, and not one of them yet has been an expert in international development,” Sachs said in an interview Thursday. “The world would be better off and America’s interests in a peaceful world would be better served by an expert in development at the bank.”
The list, he notes, includes seven bankers, two senior Defense Department officials, one congressman, and a lawyer who was an assistant secretary at the War Department. And the very first World Bank president was Eugene Meyer, a financier who also owned The Washington Post. (He served for six months.)
With World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick’s term set to expire this summer, the Obama administration is weighing its choices. Information about the selection has been tightly held. Speculation has revolved around people such as PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and Lawrence Summers, former lots of things, including former chief economist of the World Bank from 1991 to 1993.
Political figures have been mentioned, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but they said they are not interested.
“This has always been a political appointment made by politicians for politicians or for bankers,” Sachs said. “This is not a place where politics should come first or that should be seen as some great plum or easy appointment for a businessperson. With all respect to them, they could be wonderful businesspeople, but they have no business on this list.”
Sachs said that the World Bank is “an institution adrift.” He said that its $16 billion of disbursements were modest given that there are 5.5 billion people living in developing countries. “It’s not a financial powerhouse,” he said. “It’s spread very thin. It’s got tremendous professionals, but it doesn’t have clear priorities.”