Jim Yong Kim, the US nominee to head the World Bank, is coming under fire over a book he co-authored that criticises “neoliberalism” and “corporate-led economic growth”, arguing that in many cases they had made the middle classes and the poor in developing countries worse off.
Some economists are arguing that Dying for Growth, jointly edited by Dr Kim and published in 2000, puts too great a focus on health policy over broader economic growth.
“Dr Kim would be the first World Bank president ever who seems to be anti-growth,” said William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University. “Even the severest of World Bank critics like me think that economic growth is what we want.”
Dr Kim, who is president of Dartmouth College and a former head of the HIV/Aids programme at the World Health Organisation, was a surprise pick for the top job at the World Bank, which traditionally goes to a US citizen.
Little is known about his views on economic policy because his background is in health. But if he cannot set out a strong vision for how the World Bank will fuel growth, it may boost the campaigns of heavyweight rivals such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank managing director.
Dr Kim’s book contains several inflammatory lines. For example, the introduction, which he and two other academics co-authored, says: “The studies in this book present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”
But colleagues of Dr Kim and officials at the US Treasury said that when taken in context he was simply arguing that the distribution of gains from economic growth decides whether it makes life better for the poorest. They pointed out that such criticisms were widespread in the late 1990s and the World Bank had since changed its practices to take account of them.
“Jim Kim is a brilliant man and fully understands the need for economic growth. What we have said in the book is that economic growth, in and of itself, is insufficient and will not automatically lead to a better life for everyone,” said Joyce Millen, one of the co-editors of Dying for Growth, and associate professor of anthropology at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, told Reuters that Dr Kim “has an incredible feel for what matters most in development and recognizes that for economies to grow they have to invest in expanding opportunities for their people, in healthcare and in education. Those are lessons that the most successful emerging and developing countries have learned and been forced to learn, and in that sense he has the ideal feel. His experience comes from what he has done in the field, not just from his academic research.”
The legal charter of the International Development Agency, the part of the World Bank group dedicated to helping the poorest countries, says its purpose is “to promote economic development, increase productivity and thus raise standards of living in the less-developed areas of the world”.