THE HILL 03/01/12
By Michael Shank

With Robert Zoellick stepping down from the World Bank helm, there is no better time for a development economist with solid on-the-ground and substantial international experience – like Dr. Jeffrey Sachs – to take his place.

There are three clear reasons for this. The first has to do with levels of poverty and income inequality, which are reaching record levels in the US and remain problematic abroad, with over 1 billion people living in extreme poverty – at less than $1.25 a day – and another 2.5 billion without basic sanitation.

The second has to do with the broken economic systems of the developed and developing worlds and the deleterious impacts they will continue to have.  All we have to do is watch the fall of Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain, let alone the imminent ripple effects in even poorer countries, to forecast the kind of cleanup with which the Bank will be tasked.

The third has to do with climate change’s increasingly disastrous impacts on global development and poverty. That climate disasters in the US alone surpassed $50 billion last year alone shows a dangerous trend.  Hurricanes and tsunamis and floods are on the rise.  Sachs’ frequent work in Bangladesh, victim to much flooding, knows this reality all too well.

Given the World Bank’s focus on all three of these – poverty, economics and climate – and given Sachs’ wealth of experience in all three, there is no better candidate. There is a reason why Fareed Zakaria praised Sachs – who is the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute – as “one of the world’s leading economists, the go-to man for guiding countries out of economic crises.”

While other proposed candidates like Larry Summers or Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner may have some traditional ideas for the Bank’s financial frontier, they have little to no on-the-ground international development experience, nor an understanding of climate change’s potential impacts on global development and poverty.

Other candidates like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be able to move the Bank’s political agenda in a few capitals but will come up short on leveraging international development economists and may be hindered by her current political post given the recent rifts that have erupted between the US government and a growing list of countries.

Remember, the Bank’s mission is simple. As stated on its website, its mission is to: Help Reduce Poverty. This is why the Bank helm should not be a political post but a person who can move impactful development policy in order to address poverty, fix financial systems and prevent climate change from disrupting further developmental progress.

Too many political leaders pontificating from here to the EU have pledged and promised to help reduce poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  And yet, these pledges remain unfulfilled. In fact, when these leaders gather, they often simply reshuffle old pledges and repackage them as new promises. The point here is that political pomp and circumstance has not worked. By bringing Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner or Hillary Clinton on board, this dynamic is not likely to change.

The Bank needs someone who knows the inner workings of the UN, the bureaucracy of slothful government agencies everywhere, the good intentions of development-minded nongovernmental organizations, the innovation of forward-thinking economists who will not recycle old World Bank habits, and the plights of the poor, be they in Kenya or Kathmandu or Kansas.

This is Jeff Sachs. He knows all of these environments intimately and can effectively mobilize them for the greater good. A quick read of his New York Times bestsellers – The End of Poverty and Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet – and you understand immediately that this man is committed to doing everything in his power to eradicate poverty within his lifetime. This is the kind of person we want running the Bank.

Shank is an associate at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, on the board of the National Peace Academy and in the PhD program at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.