Larry Summers for the World Bank?

Print Share on LinkedIn More

February 21, 2012; Source: Wall Street Journal

Traditionally, the World Bank presidency goes to an American, in part because Americans control a majority of seats on the World Bank board and in part because an American at the helm of the Bank makes the prospect of getting funding from the U.S. Congress a little bit easier. Although Oxfam and other NGOs have said that it is time for someone other than an American to be considered, the Obama Administration has given no hints that it will nominate someone other than an American to replace outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has tired of being the human punching bag for many of President Obama’s economic policies and it’s possible he may want to opt out of the U.S. government in favor of the World Bank. Bill and Hillary Clinton have been touted as candidates. The former president would bring nonprofit sector experience to the table in a big way, given his post-White House life as the world’s most well known philanthropist. Although Hillary Clinton has said she won’t stay on as secretary of state past Obama’s first term, she has expressed no interest in the World Bank slot. 

The American who has expressed such interest is former Harvard University President Larry Summers, the former director of President Obama’s National Economic Council and, as it happens, former chief economist for the World Bank itself.

As the head of Harvard, Summers brings 501(c)(3) experience, albeit with an endowment larger than the gross domestic product of some of the economies that the World Bank will be charged with helping. But Summers is not just any old nonprofit executive, not just any old Harvard president for that matter. Many people remember Summers for his commentary on the learning behaviors of men and women. Ultra Violet, an anti-sexism group founded by former MoveOn exec Nita Chaudhary, describes Summers as a “terrible pick” and has a petition going to convince President Obama to choose someone else. “Summers has a long history of making sexist comments—like saying girls don’t have the genetic gifts to do well in math and science like boys do,” the organization says. “And the World Bank has a lot of power over the education and training of women and girls in developing countries. We need a nominee who believes girls have the same potential as boys.” Another anti-Summers petition is up on the website of CREDO Action, which is affiliated with Working Assets. 

A website that monitors news about the comings and goings of World Bank presidents notes that the selection of Summers would be odd given the Bank’s release of the “2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development” and indications of interest among the Bank’s major funders that it do more on women’s economic empowerment. Do you think that former nonprofit CEO Larry Summers would be a good fit for the World Bank?—Rick Cohen