Author: Kate Weaver

Kim can rap, but can he run the World Bank?

I’ve been conspicuously silent on the matter of who would or should succeed Robert Zoellick as President of the World Bank. This was because I was convinced that it was coming down to a Hobson’s choice between two narcissistic, white male economists: Larry Summers, former World Bank chief economist, infamous for composing an internal memo in which he outlined the pristine economic logic of exporting industrial waste to the Third World; and Jeffrey Sachs, an self-nominated development diva who hangs out with rock stars and is really high on bed nets and the “big push for aid”. A few other intriguing, but unlikely candidates were in the mix, including both Bill and Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice. But all told, over the last month it appeared we were headed down a woefully predictable path: despite the spate of calls to relinquish the near-70 year old gentleman’s agreement to let the US run the World Bank and the Europeans run the IMF, an American would be nominated, many developing countries would oppose (but ultimately fail to united behind a viable alternative), the Europeans would vote strategically to back whomever the US wanted in order to secure their stronghold on the IMF. Voila: status quo. There really didn’t seem much to say on the matter, and I was too frustrated to try.

The President Obama’s pick yesterday of Jim Yong Kim was a surprise to everyone, including me. And it is an extremely clever choice. Dr. Kim, born in South Korea, appears to check the box of “from the developing world”, even though he moved to the US at the age of 5 and South Korea is no longer a developing country (in fact, it is now a full fledged member of the OECD). But he is also American, which may placate many who fear that a non-American pick would further weaken Congressional support for multilateral aid appropriations and undermine US influence in this important international organization. Dr. Kim is also a medical doctor and anthropologist, with real development experience working in developing countries and running the department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization. He co-founded Partners in Health, alongside Paul Farmer. And apparently he is a really nice, self-deprecating guy who can rap and carry a tune, as evident in this video that went viral over the last 24 hours.

But is Dr. Kim the ideal candidate to run the World Bank, and is his selection now a foregone conclusion?

That will certainly be the key topic of discussion over the next few weeks running up to the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings. As President of Dartmouth College, he has administrative experience, although running a small, elite liberal arts college is nothing like leading a complex multicultural international institution with over 10,000 permanent staff and over 100 mission offices world wide. Moreover, Dr. Kim’s experience in development is limited to the health sector, whereas the World Bank’s lending portfolio (over $43 billion in 2011) spans everything from the health and education sector to energy and mining, transportation, governance and anticorruption, and finance. The World Bank president has a demanding job: he (or she, someday) must constantly navigate between Scylla and Charybdis, simultaneously working with the Bank’s 25 Executive Directors and the Bank’s increasingly decentralized management and staff. This latter task is akin to herding the cats, which is actually where Kim’s academic administrative experience may prove very useful, but the former task requires considerable political gravitas.

Most importantly, the World Bank President must lead an institution that for the past twenty years has been increasingly beleaguered by a tripartite crisis of legitimacy, relevance, and effectiveness. The World Bank is currently facing shifts in the global balance of power and the landscape of international aid. This is fundamentally challenging its core business model and making it more dependent on funding from emerging market economies who used to be aid recipients but are now net donors. The next World Bank President must not only adapt to new ways of thinking about and pursuing development, he (or she) must also continue to build on Zoellick’s Open Development and Open Data initiatives, which will make all of this unfold in a much more transparent and accountable environment. In short, Kim will need to demonstrate that he not only has impressive experience in fighting global epidemic diseases. He must also demonstrate that he grasps the political complexities of a rapidly changing aid industry and the political savvy to run an institution that is dead center on the radar screens of many wishing to demolish development aid as we know it. Can Kim lead the World Bank firmly in the right direction and ensure its institutional survival?

Throughout all of this, it is important to keep in mind that for the first time in World Bank history, there are two highly qualified and viable candidates from developing countries in the race: Jose Antonio Ocampo (former Finance Minister of Colombia and now a professor at Columbia University) and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (current Finance Minister of Nigeria). Their experiences working as and with finance ministers give them both tremendous advantages in this job, which demands constant interaction with developing and developed country finance ministers. And by many accounts, Okonjo-Iweala is near perfect for the job because she also served as a Managing Director of the World Bank from 2007 to 2011. This means she is intimately familiar with the exceedingly complex internal and external politics of the Bank and thus particularly well suited to leading this organization through inevitable reforms. [note: Kevin Gallagher, my co-editor at Review of International Political Economy, provides a convincing case for Ocampo here].

The news cycle of the last 24 hours seems to indicate that support for Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala will now quickly dissipate in the face of Kim’s nomination. But I am waiting to see. If, by (slim) chance, developing countries on the Bank’s Board decide to unite behind one candidate, it may well be that we’ll finally see a real race for the World Bank presidency.


Superpowers Are What We Make of Them

The Economist lead story this week on China’s Paradox of Prosperity offers some fascinating fodder for a lecture on constructivism:

“In this issue we launch a weekly section devoted to China. It is the first time since we began our detailed coverage of the United States in 1942 that we have singled out a country in this way. The principal reason is that China is now an economic superpower and is fast becoming a military force capable of unsettling America.”

What strikes me about this paragraph is the factual assertion that China is now a superpower. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much of Dan Drezner, but my first reaction was “really? Prove it.” Yet now that The Economist – a leading authoritative news source – has stated this, is it now “fact”? Are superpowers what we make of them?


Power Shift in Global Economic Governance

Has the worm finally turned? Reuters today featured a story on the emerging market economies’ push-back against the status quo of Western-dominated global economic governance. The piece features an explicit demand (and overt exercise of financial leverage) for a power shift in the predominant international financial institutions, specifically in the context of the IMF’s recent request for an additional $600 billion in resources from its member states to help bail out Europe.

Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal is quoted in the story as saying:”What we can be certain of is that large developing nations will not agree to provide additional funds without a greater say in the IMF, and this applies to all global economic governance organizations.”

Interesting, the story also highlights the fact that emerging market economies, while demanding more voice and influence in the IFIs, are also turning away from existing international institutions in favor of regional alternatives, such as the Arab Monetary Fund and Islamic Development Bank in the Middle East and the Chiang Mai initiative in East Asia. This fact is neither new or shocking, but the tone of such a public speech is remarkable.

Ironically (or pathetically, depending how you look at it), there was also a recent news story that revealed that Obama is considering the nomination of Larry Summers as the next World Bank president when Robert Zoellick’s term expires in May 2012 (note: thanks to Martin Edwards for alerting me to this one). This would, oh so predictably: (1) sustain the stubborn Western tradition of keeping an American at helm of the World Bank (and by corollary, a European at the head of the Fund); (2) uphold the image of the Bretton Woods institutions as being first and foremost accountable to the Wall Street-Treasury complex, and (3) continue to alienate the very countries upon whose financial generosity these institutions will increasingly depend in the coming years.

Martin Edwards and I are conspiring on an op-ed on that little tidbit of information and its implications for the legitimacy and relevance of the World Bank, so stay tuned.


“I am not a Chicken!”: Social Mobilization at Its Best

I can’t resist sharing this wonderful news clip from Malawi. I challenge Duck readers to have fun with this: What might the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street movements learn from Malawi?

Malawi protests scheduled for January 15, Chilembwe Day
12 January 2012
tags: chilembwe day, malawi, protest
by dadakim

The following call to protest in Malawi on January 15 (Chilembwe Day) was sent as an email, and has been reported on by opposition online news agency Nyasa Times.




My Fellow Malawians.

I greet you in the name of the Lord our God.

97 years after Rt Rev John Chilembwe sacrificed his precious life to fight colonialism, Malawi is at the Crossroads again. Our leadership has failed us big time.

With their own hands, our leaders have created gargantuan problems for the ordinary people. With their own hands, our leaders have depleted all our forex reserves on luxuries such as the presidential jet, Mercedes Benz vehicles for members of the Cabinet and grand high level corruption.

With their own hands, our leaders have left the country’s health delivery system in a shambles. With their own hands, our leaders have facilitated the deaths of thousands of ordinary poor Malawians through failure to supply hospitals with basic essential drugs.

With their own hands, our leaders have rendered the public ambulance system which serves the medical emergency needs of 90% of Malawians ineffective leading to massive deaths.

With their own hands, our leaders are failing to support private sector growth, denying companies the much needed foreign exchange needed to import raw materials. With their own hands, our leaders are forcing companies to cut jobs, rendering thousands of Malawian jobless.

With their own hands, our leaders are forcing people to spend long unproductive hours and sleepless nights queuing for fuel at pump stations without any hope.

Yet, when the suffering public raises their voices to complain about the deteriorating life standards, with their own mouth, our leaders are happy to call its people chickens.

Are you really chickens Fellow Malawians? This is the question that we, as Concerned Malawian Citizens (CMC), would like every Malawian to reflect on as we commemorate the Rt Rev John Chilembwe’s uprising of 1915.

Let there be no doubt, my Fellow Malawians. Malawians succeeded to remove colonialism and one-party dictatorship despite immense resistance. There is absolutely nothing that can stop Malawians today from removing the current dictator and save the nation from further economic deterioration. We must remain united and focused on rescuing our poor people.


The commemoration of the 1915 Chilembwe uprising gives us a window of hope. As Concerned Malawian Citizens, we would like to reject in the strongest terms possible, that Malawians are not Chickens. In view of that, we would like to appeal to all Malawians to unite and take the following peaceful actions in protest:

Effective today, 11 January 2012, all Malawian motorists are asked to blow their vehicle horns three times a day at the following times: 0830am, 1230pm and 1630pm. This must be done continuously for some 30 seconds. This also applies to motorists camping at a fuel stations.

Every Friday, all Malawians are requested to put on red attire or a red scarf in protest to continued suffering of the people.

All Malawians are requested to get a small red flag or red card. This red flag or red card should be waved in the air, everything you see any member of the Cabinet or other senior government officials. This must be done in the same way as Football Referees do when sending off a player who has breached football rules. Where possible, when raising the flag, you must shout: “I am not a Chicken”.

On Chilembwe Day, which falls on 15 January, all Malawians are asked to put on red attire and peacefully converge at the following places for a three-hour vigil. The vigil will start at 0900 am.

· In Blantyre, Kamuzu Upper Stadium

· Lilongwe, Area 18 Tower

· Zomba, Academic Freedom Park at Chancellor College

· Mzuzu, Katoto Freedom Park.

Activities will include poetry recitals, traditional dances and songs.





Cringing in Texas

David Bosco has a terrific post (and a promised series) on “Can Conservatives Learn to Love Multilateral Organizations?” (Short answer: no, especially not in an election year). It is a timely entry after the recent Republican debates on US foreign policy, during which the candidates did their very best to beat each other at the age-old game of beating up the principle of multilateralism.

Much to my horror (but not surprise), Texas Governor Rick Perry took the cake when he promised that, if elected, he would “zero out foreign aid” and instead allocate aid based upon countries’ “support for America.” This comment earned praise from U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina), who argued that Perry’s “strong performance” in the most recent debate would revive his candidacy and claimed that “I think you’re gonna hear us talking about zero-based budgeting on foreign aid from here on out.” (This is where Brian would write “barf” or another word spelled out in asterisks).

Quick reminder: US foreign aid is less than $50 billion for FY2012, and on the decline. That’s less than 1% of fiscal spending (much of which goes to military aid, not development aid). This is a far cry from the 20-25% that most Americans seem to think we spend on foreign aid. By the way, has anyone asked Perry or his compatriots how much the US actually spends on foreign aid? Not that facts matter. This is politics, folks.

Then again, Perry’s stance on foreign aid seemed kind and gentle compared to his answer to the question on enhanced interrogation techniques:

Perry said foreign enemies are targeting young American men and women and would “kill them in a heartbeat under any circumstances, using any techniques they can.” Then raising his voice to almost a shout, he said, “This is war.” For the U.S. not to have the ability to use the techniques to get information that would save lives, he said, is “a travesty.

And lest you think Perry saves his gunslinging hyperboles for US foreign policy, you should follow his ongoing assault on higher education here in Texas. See here, here, here, and here. More on this in later posts, if I manage to stop banging my head against the wall.

So when Lyle Lovett sings that “you’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway,” do you think that includes pro-multilateral, pro-human rights academics?



I’ve been a very bad (lame) duck of late, but for good reason. On top of many other duties, I am teaching a new graduate seminar this semester on Global Economic Governance with some very smart and fun students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Each week we start the class by digging into the current news, which lately has been a veritable feast for IPE junkies. We’ve had particular fun with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) coverage, and more recently the “Occupy Occupy Wall Street” (OOWS) retort from the very proud and indignant 1%.

Last week, I asked my students to react to claims that the OWS movement needed to articulate some clear demands in order to capture the rhetorical advantage and be taken seriously. My students took to this task with gusto on their own internal class blogsite, while pushing back a bit with intelligent arguments for why the OWS movement should NOT have a clear message. Nonetheless, they did come up with a clever blurb for OWS and I promised to blog on this in hopes of attracting some smart (and undoubtedly snarky) feedback from Duck readers.

Here’s the message my students crafted:

For too long the 1% in our society has controlled the economic fate of the 99%. The financial elite are responsible for co-opting our democratic principles, capturing government institutions, and undermining the social contract of society. We bailed them out and they bailed on us. We need to throw out the policies that left them with the fruit and left us with the rinds; its time for change. We need to reform out tax policies, close corporate loopholes and increase transparency. The elite, the 1%, convinced us that they were too big to fail. We are the 99% and we are too big to fail.

(Note the very clever reference to the Tom Waits song, “Talking at the Same Time”)

For this week, I turned the tables and ask the students to try to craft a counter-response from the 1%. They clearly had a harder time with this task. This is certainly understandable if you consider that I am asking poor graduate students facing bleak employment prospects to defend the position of the wealthiest 1% in our nation. A few clever students did find some golden satire and a real OOWS response that are worth sharing:

First, a link to the Borowitz Report, “A Special Offer from America’s Corporations.”

Second, marketing advice for the Bank of America:

An ad could start with a Bank of America investment adviser (on-screen label tells viewer the employee’s job title) who says, “This is Joe (in walks a regular dude). For the past 10 years, I’ve helped Joe save so he could send his daughter to college this fall.” (see cute picture of a young woman setting up her dorm room)

Then another Bank of America employee (with an on-screen label that says “loan officer”) says: “Meet my friend Mary (enter Mary). Last year, I helped Mary open her own pet shop.”

Last BofA employee says: “And with my help, Louis bought his family’s first home.” (show picture of cute family with new baby in new home.)

And then the ad could wrap up with something, perhaps just words on the screen: “At Bank of America, we are 250,000 people whose job is to help make your dreams come true.

Finally, a REAL message from OOWS:

For 20 days, only one side of this story was told.

On October 5th, members of the 1% broke their silence.

Comprised of investment bankers in the wealthiest 1%, Occupy Occupy Wall Street’s displays of solidarity will continue to occur periodically in Liberty Square to protest “Occupy Wall Street.” Since their movement began on October 5th , #OOWS has gained the support of thousands of investment bankers across the country. “To be angry at the wealthiest Americans for their success is simply childish jealousy from those who have failed to create the same opportunities themselves,” representative John Selvig states. “America is not kindergarten; there are winners and losers. This is a country where if you work hard in the right field you can become extremely wealthy. We are proud of that wealth and will not sit back and watch a group slander it in our own backyard. We will not stop until #OOWS out-occupies the occupiers.” This movement believes that “The system is not broken and we will fight, at all costs, to maintain the status quo. We are the 1% and we are 100% proud!” For interview requests, or to be alerted to upcoming #oows events, email:

Note that on the OOWS website, you can buy a t-shirt proclaiming your 1% pride. (And it’s only $40 plus shipping and handling. Now that’s the capitalist spirit!)


International Moxy Fund?

Is the IMF growing a pair….?

This past week, the Fund’s new Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, delivered a rabble-rousing speech in Jackonson Hole, Wyoming in which she called for a mandatory capital increase for European banks, using public funds if needed. I’m not convinced that’s going to fly, but I have to say that I admire Lagarde’s moxy.

Today, Kenneth Rogoff, the Fund’s former Chief Economist, published an op-ed in which he suggested that the Fund may finally be pulling away from the party line and demonstrating some willingness to contradict its European masters. Maybe.

I had to chuckle at this passage in Rogoff’s essay:

“The late Chicago-school economist George Stigler would have described the IMF’s role in Europe as reflecting acute “regulatory capture.” Simply put, Europe and the US control too much power in the IMF, and their thinking is too dominant. What European leaders may want most from the Fund are easy loans and strong rhetorical support. But what Europe really needs is the kind of honest assessment and tough love that the Fund has traditionally offered to its other, less politically influential, clients.”

It’s the last line that got me. My immediate thought was “honest assessment and tough love? What would Lula say?”


Open Data, Open Sesame?

In an article last week in the Financial Times on “Sex, Lies, and the Pitfalls of Overblown Statistics,” John Kay bluntly wrote: “Always ask yourself the question: where does the data come from?”

It’s a good question, and one I frequently ask myself when I read yet another story about the hottest craze in the international development aid business today: the Open Data Initiative of the World Bank.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the World Bank’s Open Data initiative is freaking awesome. You can now get free access to the Bank’s World Development Indicators (hitherto accessible, but by no means free unless you were a privileged academic in a research university that purchased a subscription to the database). You can now get extensive information on the Bank’s financial activities, including lending data that previously you could only attempt to compile by patiently wading through turgid annual reports in PDF or hardcopy format. And now you can even get comprehensive information on the Bank’s project-level activities, including links to multiple project documents. The World Bank is really the only international aid agency that has achieved this kind of transparency (kudos!). The Bank even created a new staff position, with the title “Open Data Evangelist” (hello, Tariq!). In short, the Open Data Initiative is a goldmine for aid nerds like myself, and I am both impressed and grateful.

But is the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative really capable of “democratizing development” in the way envisioned by Bank President Robert Zoellick? Is open data going to be a panacea for the transparency and accountability deficits that have undermined international aid’s legitimacy and effectiveness for decades? Will open data really empower the poor?

It is entirely too easy to get swept up in the romantic swell of the Open Data movement. Yet the idealism underpinning Open Data leaves me uneasy. Why? Here are some of my half-baked musings on the subject:

1. Beware the Data Deluge. More is not always better. Opening the data spigots is great, but opening the data floodgates….?

2. Making data available to the public is not the same as helping the public to interpret – and interrogate – the data. I don’t mean to be patronizing here. But there is, to my mind, a tension between the desire to make data highly accessible to non-expert users and making data available in a way that is fully honest and transparent with respect to explaining where the data came from, how data are produced (and by whom), what margins of error exist, and how savvy users might replicate the data to ensure validity. After all, especially in the field of international development, the data environment can best be characterized as spotty, uncertain, unreliable and often nonexistent. But all these caveats and nuances often get lost what data are boiled down into easy-to-use dashboards and interfaces that spit out fancy graphs, geomaps, and so forth. Ooooooh………. ahhhh…..

3. Cui bono? Who is using the data? So far, all we know is the the World Bank’s website is getting a gazillion hits per day. But who is accessing the data, what data are they accessing, and what are they doing with it? Numbers are powerful tools of persuasion. They can be distorted and misused, often to malevolent ends. (For interesting work on the politics of data, see Peter Andreas and Kelly Greenhill’s edited book, Sex, Drugs and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict).

4.Going beyond the use of data, what about the production of data? I fear that development data gurus sometimes confuse the democratization of the data end supply with the democratization of data production. I was socialized enough into the constructivist/critical theory mold during the bygone days of graduate school to realize that social science data does not appear out of thin air, nor can it be discovered in a test tube. In other words, somewhere along the way someone has to make pretty subjective calls about what numbers are important to collect, how to collect them, what to ignore (and how to control for that), and how to aggregate and interpret the results. A lot happens in the data production cycle that gets wistfully swept into some footnote or appendix that no one reads (if it appears in print at all). I guess my message here is that I hope the open data gurus start to turn a more critical eye towards questions regarding the data production and supply chain.

All said and done, I think the World Bank’s open data revolution is a huge step forward and should be picked up by other aid organizations (as well as what now seems to be a global open government movement). But in the process I also now look forward to a whole new debate about the politics of open data.


State of the Field, Redux: What’s Wrong with IPE?

There are a few things that make me really hot under the collar. The first is the unending 100+ degree summer heat in central Texas. The second is the unending debate on the “state of the field”, in particular the state of the International Political Economy (IPE) discipline. It is a topic near and dear to my heart (IPE, not Texas heat). A few years ago, I was so provoked by Benjamin Cohen’s trenchant intellectual history of IPE and the reactions that followed that I put together a special issue on the so-called “American School of IPE” in Review of International Political Economy. This was soon followed by a special issue on the British School of IPE, edited by Nicola Phillips in New Political Economy. Finally, in hopes of achieving some closure on all the kvetching and navel-gazing, Nicola and I combined the two special issues and solicited a new round of essays, which came out last year as a book on the Past, Present and Future of IPE. At that point, I decided to stop worrying about the state of the field and return to more rewarding, substantive research.

But Dan’s blog from a week ago on the state of IPE today brought all the angst back. Dan raised a simple, yet powerful question: why have our top journals (specifically International Organization) had so few articles on the global financial crisis? For that matter, why do the top journals have so few IPE articles on anything of real importance to the world economy today?

Rather than stew in my juices and provide a snarky reply, I turned to some of my uber-talented IPE friends with these questions. Here are two great responses I received from Mark Blyth and Thomas Oatley, which I reproduce here, with my thanks.

From Thomas Oatley, Associate Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, author most recently of a great IPE piece in IO, “The Reductionist Gamble: Open Economy Politics in the Global Economy“:

Perhaps no research directly relevant to the American financial crisis has appeared in IO because mainstream American IPE values general knowledge over case-specific knowledge. It believes further that general knowledge is produced through the statistical analysis of large samples. David Singer, in a recent APSA Political Economy section newsletter, nicely summarizes the kind of research this orientation implies. “From a research design perspective, a reasonable way forward is to test hypotheses about the conditional impact of capital inflows on the probability of financial crises in the developed world. The scope and quality of regulation are likely contenders for inclusion in such a model. The cases of Australia and Spain suggest that large capital inflows might be less destabilizing if the banking system faces strict capital requirements and prohibitions against non-traditional banking activities. Other possible conditioning variables include, inter alia, resource endowments, partisanship, and corporate governance.”

So why hasn’t IO published research along the lines Singer proposes? I suspect that such research has yet to appear because standard statistical techniques are not well suited to the complex causality that characterizes banking crises. This causal complexity has two dimensions. The first is equifinality: multiple causal paths produce banking crises. Post liberalization “capital inflow bonanzas” that drove the Scandinavian crises is a different mechanism than the “post-Louvre over-valued yen with abundant domestic savings” mechanism that generated Japan’s banking crisis in the late 1980s, which is a different mechanism than the over-exposure to Greek sovereign debt that underlies current weakness of German banks. All three mechanisms might be different than the “zero private savings, large government deficit and global savings glut of historic proportions” mechanism that caused the US crisis.

Second, causality may be conjunctural. That is, rather than having a consistent effect across cases, the impact of a variable might depend on how it combines with other factors. An over-valued currency on its own may not increase the probability of a banking crisis, but an over-valued currency in combination with surplus domestic savings and a particular regulatory structure may have caused Japan’s banking crisis. Multiple conjunctural causality is challenging for standard statistical techniques, although techniques for managing these challenges do exist (see Bear Braumoeller. 2003. “Political Complexity and the Study of Politics,” Political Analysis 11: 209-233).

Why haven’t quantitatively oriented IPE scholars applied techniques such as Braumoeller’s to the study of banking crises? I think the problem may rest in the rarity of major banking crises. According to Reinhart and Reinhart, only 5 major systemic banking crises occurred in developed countries between 1973 and 2007. If three or four distinct causal mechanisms are at work in these five crises, it will be difficult to find statistically significant configurations among sub-sets of crises.

In short, I would argue that no articles directly relevant to the financial crisis have appeared in IO because the field attaches little value to studying the US crisis in isolation, and the banking crises with which it might share common properties are so infrequent that statistical techniques are unlikely to identify general relationships. As a result, an event of supreme global importance gains very little attention from American IPE scholars.

From Mark Blyth, Professor at Brown University, hard at work on a book about the financial crisis that is bound to be a classic in the field:

There are more than a few IPE scholars who have written about the financial crisis and its aftermath. Its just that they have done so in venues that are not as cumbersome as traditional peer reviewed journals. There are two problems with looking to such journals as venues.

The first is the ‘hit the moving target’ problem. I wrote a piece in 2008 called ‘this time it really is different’ on the 2008 crisis and the EU, and by the time I got editor comments, it had morphed into the Euro crisis. Add publication time-tabling into this and almost anything you can say about this is redundant. By the time you revise it to catch up its redundant again. Economists (as usual) have an advantage over us with sites like the NBER and VOXEU designed to get it out quickly, so they get the press.

The second is the ‘discipline of discipline’ problem. Frankly, younger IPE scholars are taught to work with quant data and not say anything beyond it. That’s the skill set. They are taught to do ‘tractable’ questions. What’s tractable about the GFC? That’s a problem when past data is absolutely no use in discerning future trends beyond broad Reinhardt and Rogoff ‘lets dump medieval Spain and modern France in the same data set and talk about defaults’ approach.

Others can talk about intellectual hegemony and the like, but as someone who has sat on a board for many years, I can say its the submissions or lack thereof the is the real killer. Why aren’t IPE journals publishing crisis work? Possibly because no one is submitting it? Or because its much more bang for the buck and much faster to publish in Foreign Affairs or on line?

One last thought. All journal submissions need to be tied into disciplinary debates in order to pass the sniff test at a journal. So what is the debate that the crisis ties into that IPE has a track record on? US decline (got that wrong several times)? Institutional change (most popular models are all about incremental change while the world gets smacked by a Black Swan every week)? Diffusion? (of what, panic)? Human Rights and Trade? (relevance?)

The fundamental problem is that IPE imagines a world quite unlike the one we actually inhabit much of the time. As a consequence when we are asked to comment on the world we actually inhabit, we have little to say.

Finally, I should note that there are in fact some great works out there by IPE scholars that directly hit on the current global financial crisis. I won’t try to be comprehensive, in fear of overlooking several obvious examples, but I’ve read (or re-read) three in the past month that are simply terrific: Herman Schwartz’s Subprime Nation; Randy Germain’s Global Politics and Financial Governance, and Eric Helleiner, Stefano Pagliari and Hubert Zimmermann’s (eds) Global Finance in Crisis.

If anyone out there can point to other great sources – in journals and books – please send in your suggested readings list.


On Paradigms, Policy Revelance and Other IR Myths

I had every intention this evening of writing a cynical commentary on all the hoopla surrounding Open Government, Open Data and the Great Transparency Revolution. But truth be told, I am brain-dead at the moment. Why? Because I spent the last two days down in Williambsurg, VA arbitrating codes for a Teaching, Research and International Politics (TRIP) project (co-led by myself and Jason Sharman) which analyzes what the field of IR looks like from the perspective of books. It is all meant as a complement to the innovative and hard work of Michael Tierney, Sue Peterson and the TRIP founders down at William & Mary, who have sought to map the field of IR by systematically coding all published articles in the top 12 peer-reviewed disciplinary journals for characteristics such as paradigm, methodology, epistemology and policy relevance. In addition, the TRIP team has conducted numerous surveys of IR scholars in the field, the latest round capturing nearly 3000 scholars in ten countries. The project, while not immune from nit-picky criticism about its methodological choices and conclusions, has yielded several surprisingly results that have both reified and dismantled several myths about the field of IR.

So, in the spirit of recent diatribes on the field offered by Steve and Brian, I summarize a few of the initial findings of our work to serve as fodder for our navel-gazing discussion:

Myth #1: IR is now dominated by quantitative work

Truth: Depends on where you look. This is somewhat true if you confine yourself to the idea that we can know the field only by peering into the pages of IO, ISQ, APSR and the like. Between 2000-2008, according to a TRIP study by Jordan et al (2009), 38.8% of journal articles employed quantitative methods,while 30.4% used qualitative methods. [In IPE, however, the trend is definitely clearer: in 2006, 90% of articles used quantitative methods — see Maliniak and Tierney 2009, 20)]. But the myth of quantitative dominance is dispelled when we look beyond journals. In the 2008 survey of IR scholars, 72% of scholars reported that they use qualitative methods as their primary methodology. In our initial study of books between 2000-2010, Jason and I found that 58% of books use qualitative methods and only 9.3% use quantitative (the rest using mainly descriptive methods, policy analysis and the rare formal model).

Myth #2: In IR, it’s all about PARADIGMS.

Truth: Well, not really. As much as we kvetch about how everyone has to pay homage to realism, liberalism, constructivism (and rarely, Marxism) in order to get published, the truth is that a minority of published IR work takes one or more of these paradigms as the chosen framework for analysis. Surveys reveal that IR scholars still think of Realism as the dominant paradigm, yet realism shows up as the paradigm of choice in less than 10% of both books and article. Liberalism is slightly more prevalent – it is the paradigm of choice in around 26% of journal articles and 20% of books. Constructivism has actually overtaken realism, but still amounts to only 11% of journal articles and 17% of books in the past decade. Instead, according to the TRIP coding scheme, most of the IR work is “non-paradigmatic” (meaning it takes theory seriously, but doesn’t use one of the usual paradigmatic suspects) or is “atheoretic”. [Stats alert: 45% of journal articles are non-paradigmatic and 9.5% atheoretic, whereas books are 31% non-paradigmatic and 23% are atheoretical).

So, Brian: does IR still “really like” the isms?

Myth #3: Positivism rules.

Truth: Yep, that one is pretty much on the mark. 86% of journal articles AND 85% of books between 2000-2010 employed a positivist methodology. Oddly, however, only 55% of IR scholars surveyed report to see themselves as positivists. I’m going to add that one to the list of “things that make me go hmmmmm…..”

Myth #4: IR scholarship is not oriented towards policy.

Truth: Sadly, true. Only 12% of journal articles offer policy recommendations. [Ok, a poor proxy, but all I had to go on from the TRIP coding system]. Books are slightly more likely to dabble in policy, with 22% offering some sort of policy prescriptions – often quite limited and lame in my humble coding experience. Still, curiously, scholars nonetheless perceive themselves differently. 29% of scholars says they are doing policy-oriented research. This could be entirely true if they are doing this outside the normal venues of published research in the discipline and we’re simply not capturing it in our study (blogs, anyone?). All of which begs several questions: are IR scholars really engaging in policy debates? If so, how? Where? If not, why not? (Hint: fill out the next TRIP survey in the fall 2011 and we’ll find out!!)

(Note to readers: I was unable to provide a link to the draft study that Jason and I conducted on books, as it is not yet ready for prime time on the web. But if you have any questions about our project, feel free to email me).


Will Transparency Save the World Bank?

I confess that I am a World Bank junkie. There is nothing (well, very little) that perks my intellectual interest more than an in-depth discussion on the internal and external politics of the Bank. Over the past two weeks in DC, I have mercilessly subjected my graduate students to numerous conversations about the challenges facing the organization with experts within the Bank, US Senate, and the world of NGOs and think tanks. To my fabulous students, I want to say thanks for letting me nerd-out. To faithful Duck readers, I’d like to pose a few questions about the future of the Bank that arose from these conversations.

Fellow Bank-junkies will undoubtedly have caught the big story about the World Bank’s Open Data Revolution in the New York Times on July 3. The story aptly captures the Bank’s current crisis:

“…while the I.M.F. is busy with scandal and the debt crisis now shaking Europe, officials at the World Bank’s headquarters here are confronting some existential questions, including the big one: What exactly are we doing here?”

Indeed, for well over a decade the Bank has been struggling with a tripartite challenge of waning relevance, questioned effectiveness, and challenged legitimacy. In response, the Bank has sought to redefine its identity from a lending Bank to a Knowledge Bank. In so doing, the Bank hopes to redefine its comparative advantage and raison d’etre in an increasingly crowded and competitive field of development funders, generating influence and authority as much from its expertise as the (waning) power of its purse.

And I have to say that in the last year, the Bank’s transformation has been remarkable. A few months ago, the Bank finally passed its revised information disclosure policy, moving from a highly restrictive policy that listed what could be disclosed to a much more liberal policy that presumes everything is open unless explicitly exempted (hallelujah!). It also created free public access to a wealth of development data, including the World Development Indicators. Moreover, it is now possible to quickly find extensive information on the World Bank’s projects and programs, complete with links to project documents on its project portal page. The World Bank has even starting geomapping its aid programs (thanks in large part to the groundbreaking work of AidData and Development Gateway). Not surprisingly, the World Bank has in turned earned high marks for its efforts, including top scores in Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Assessment and the Center for Global Development’s Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA).

But for the moment I have a few questions regarding the impact of this Transparency Revolution on the future of the World Bank (and I’m sure I’ll have more questions later):

First, how can transparency be effectively turned into an accountability tool? We have yet to see how the opening of the data floodgates at the Bank will (in development parlance) “empower stakeholders.” This will depend not so much on the accessibility of data as the usability of data, as noted by the Aleem Walji, the Bank’s guru for Open Data. To paraphrase the words of one close observer, open data could be like the race car that no one can drive. How will we know the real impact of the open data revolution? Hint: it won’t be through the number of hits to the website or the download count.

Second, will the Bank’s new and improved transparency, as well as its efforts to “democratize” its governance, solicit sustained political support, particularly from its biggest donor? We’re in the midst of the FY2012 Budget Request and it includes a big call for a General Capital Increase for the World Bank and other multilateral development banks. But the general sentiment in DC is that this is going to be a hard sell. The World Bank (in contrast to some of the other MDBs and bilateral aid agencies) is held in high esteem, but there is little political support on the Hill for development aid and multilateralism in general.

Third, will the Bank’s progress in reestablishing its legitimacy via its transparency revolution translate into a revival of its relevance? I ask this because there is a deeper underlying problem regarding the need for the Bank today. Global financial crisis notwithstanding, the demand for the Bank’s (and other aid agencies’) loans and services is quickly waning in most areas of the world, with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa. Many middle income countries are now graduating from the International Development Agency (IDA), the Bank’s soft loan window. Their need (and desire) for funds to help support infrastructure and other development projects can be easily met by private capital markets, which offer rates similar to the IBRD (the Bank’s hard-loan window) without all the conditions and safeguard requirements. More critically, new non-OECD DAC donors – most notably China, as well as large foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – provide would-be borrowers with many other options besides the traditional multilateral and bilateral lenders. Knowledge Bank aside, can the Bank continue to exist with its current mandate, staff and structure without demand for its core lending business?

Finally, for your amusement, a completely unrelated observation offered by one of our speakers about the contrasting cultures and internal debate within the IMF and World Bank:

“The Fund is arrogant, superior, and like the Borg. If you put five Fund staffers in a room, only one will speak. The Bank, on the other hand, is unfocused, undisciplined, squishy. If you put five Bank staffers in a room, they will all speak at once.”

(And no, that flattering comparison did not come from our NGO speaker. It came from from someone who worked within both of the institutions….)


En Garde, Lagarde

I happened to be walking up 19th Street in downtown DC today in the early afternoon. Numerous media vans were parked along the road, and the sidewalks between F and H Streets were filled with eager reporters and bemused staff, obviously enjoying a long lunch break. A stranger, clearly new to the area, came up to me and asked, “Do you know where 700 19th Street is?”

Me: “Are you looking for the IMF?”

Lost stranger (from the UN in New York, as it turned out): “Yes, I am,”

Me: “You just missed it. It’s the big gray building with the excited crowd and throng of cameras in front of it.”

Lost Stranger: “Oh, what’s going on?”

Me: “They’re getting ready to announce the new Managing Director.”

Lost Stranger: “Really? You mean that lady? Is that a big deal?”

Me: “Yes, that lady – Christine Lagarde. And it is a big deal.”

My answer actually surprised me. I had taken it as a foregone conclusion during the last several weeks that Christine Lagarde would be the next IMF Managing Director. Over the past two days, this became even more evident as Lagarde won endorsements first from China and then the US. It thus wasn’t a shock when the Executive Board chose Lagarde today over her competitor, Mexican economist Agustin Carstens. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that, despite her French roots, Christine Lagarde does represent a real change at the IMF. Putting a women at the helm of any international organization today is a noteworthy achievement. Quick – how many female IO leaders can you name off the top of your head?

Putting a women in charge of the IMF is even more remarkable. The IMF, as many have noted, is a very masculine, hierarchical organization with a marine-like culture. Yet there are women who work for the IMF (I have met many of them, and they are amazing). There are even women who have reached the near-top of the managerial ranks, such as former Deputy Managing Director Anne Krueger and current Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik (who, after only a few weeks on the job, was sent to represent the IMF in an important European trip shortly after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York in May). Certainly, being a women in charge of such a male-dominated organization will be difficult, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle.

So gender will not be Lagarde’s biggest challenge in leading the Fund. Instead, here are a few thoughts on the bigger hurdles that Madame MD will face in the coming months:

First, Lagarde is going to have to prove that she can be unbiased in leading the IMF in the ongoing bailout of Europe. Many have questioned the appropriateness (perhaps even an explicit conflict of interest) of putting a French finance minister in charge of the IMF at this time. Lagarde will assume the post of Managing Director next Tuesday, and her first task will be to drive home the joint rescue package for Greece, which is bound to attract criticism no matter how austere or lax the bailout turns out to be. Will she be able to deliver the tough love and stand her ground against her former European colleagues?

Second, Lagarde will need to demonstrate that merit – not nationality – should indeed be the basis of leadership selection at the IMF. In her own speech before the Board last week, she reminded the Executive Directors that when she was on the Board of Governors at the IMF, she went on the record in support of an open leadership selection process. There will be pressure for her to put some muscle behind this statement, perhaps by appointing a non-American to replace John Lipsky as First Deputy Managing Director. [On this, see Mohamed El-Erian’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times. See also Stephen Richter’s suggestion that Carstens receive a consolation prize in the form of Lipsky’s number two spot, although it is not at all clear that Carstens would want this].

Third, Lagarde will have to win over the IMF staff. This is especially important when major change within the Fund is needed to address serious weaknesses in the organization’s relevance and effectiveness in critical areas such as its surveillance functions and financial sector expertise. There is no doubt that Lagarde has superb managerial skills and is by all accounts extremely charming. This will be an asset in her role as political figure in high level negotiations and in representing the IMF in the public arena. But inside the IMF, it may be a different story. One of Lagarde’s biggest deficits, as Martin Wolf recently argued, is that she is not actually an economist. She is a lawyer. And in an organization dominated by highly trained economists, her inability to debate the finer details of academic theories and models may make it very difficult for her to earn street cred and push for change within the walls of 700 19th Street.

(KW note: thanks to CP for today’s blog title)


Groupthink at the IMF?

This week, the Independent Evaluation Office at the International Monetary Fund released its report on the relevance and utility of research at the Fund (see also today’s Financial Times article on the report). The report itself echoes an earlier IEO report on the Fund’s performance running up to the 2008 financial crisis, which found that the Fund’s failure to foresee the crisis was in part due to pervasive groupthink within the organization.

The IEO report reveals much about the ideological culture of the Fund. Importantly, it draws from interviews and surveys with academics, national authorities, and staff with the Fund. According to the report, academics and national authorities think that the Fund’s research reached “predetermined conclusions”, driven presumably by biases inherent to the neoliberal orthodox training of most of its economist. That is not the surprising bit. The more shocking tidbit in the report is the finding from the internal survey, which revealed that more than half of the IMF staff interviewed for the report agreed that research findings at the Fund were altered to fit in-house views. Continue reading


Beware the Blog?

Being new to the blogging world, I have been thinking a lot about the utility and influence of blogs. Blogs seem appealing in so many ways. They appear to be an effective means of disseminating facts and views quickly to a wide audience, facilitating timely responses to emerging policy issues (and other fun pop politics). At the same time, blogging is a way of discussing real intellectual ideas free of many of the pitfalls of peer review and academic publishing (see last week’s Duck entry by Brian Rathbun). More importantly, blogging is concise, pithy and entertaining and can potentially appeal to wider audiences, thus expanding the field of debate and influence. For those of us interested in bridging the academic-policy world divide, blogging seems promising.

But this past weekend’s news about the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogging fiasco got me thinking about the ethics of blogs. Point blank: what is the responsibility of the blogger – normally one committed to speaking truth to power – to give power to truth?

Journalistic codes of conduct don’t seem to apply. Certainly some academic standards do. For example, a blogger who plagiarized would certainly be ostracized quite quickly, but presumably the punishment would come more through social shaming and reader boycotts than any explicit sanctions against the writer. So do bloggers have a code of conduct? Should they have a code of conduct?

Moreover – as the newbie here – I am very curious as to others’ thoughts about how we observe and measure the influence of blogging. If we were to assert, for example, that blogging is an important means of shaping debates and exercising intellectual influence and thus should be considered in things such as hiring, promotion and tenure decisions (alongside activities such as writing op-eds), how would we back this up with evidence? How do we assess the quality and impact of blogging? When and how does blogging matter?


Crisis and Change in International Organizations

The ongoing saga over the leadership crisis at the IMF poses a bigger existential question about crisis and change in international organizations: do crises in fact provoke change?

This was the question at the forefront of my mind as I was driving from Texas to DC last week to start teaching a summer graduate seminar for the LBJ School of Public Affairs on, of all things, Crisis and Change in International Organizations. I was struck by the irony that the last time there was a major leadership crisis in the Bretton Woods institutions, it was at the World Bank. In May 2007, then President Paul Wolfowitz was ousted as the result of getting caught up in a nepotism scandal in which he arranged for a very generous secondment(and later return package) from the Bank to the State Department for his (by then former) girlfriend, Bank staff member Shaha Riza. The indiscretion of Wolf II (in Bank parlance) seems to pale in comparison to the actions of DSK. But it was extremely controversial back then because of the blatant hypocrisy of Wolfowitz’s actions simultaneous with his very aggressive campaign against corruption in the Bank and its lending activities. (So how would Wolfowitz have scored on Megan MacKenzie’s Sexual Scandal Scale?)

The Wolfowitz scandal gave me then the perfect opening to my book on the organized hypocrisy of the World Bank, just as now the DSK scandal at the IMF gives me plenty of fodder for discussions with my students about governance, leadership and representation in IOs. This also gets to a point raised last week by Martin Edward in his response to my previous (first ever!) blog last week on the IMF. Simply put: if the Europeans manage to get their candidate (Christine Lagarde) into the Managing Director role at the Fund even in the context of mounting pressure to finally break with the 1945 era gentleman’s agreement between the US and Europe over control of the Bank and IMF helms, can we foresee any chance that the next President of the World Bank might not be an American?

Robert Zoellick’s five-year term is up in mid-2012 (which, by the way, is a term that can be renewed). There has been plenty of discussion about the need to finally put a non-American into this post. In fact, a few years back President Obama reportedly went on the record supporting the idea of a non-American citizen assuming the World Bank’s presidency, in order to “symbolize the commitment to fighting world poverty.” Likewise, the Obama administration’s national security strategy writ large has been to engage emerging powers within international institutions by giving them greater voice and influence in their governing structures (for a great discussion of this, see Stewart Patrick’s essay in Foreign Affairs in Nov/Dec 2010). Yet, I foresee little possibility of the Americans ceding control over the Bank if the Europeans don’t return the favor at the IMF. Tit-for-tat anyone?

As Martin also insightfully noted, breaking with this tradition requires not just a concession by the powers-that-be, but also collection action by the wanna-be powers. And that’s just what we haven’t seen yet: a concerted effort by emerging powers to agree upon a single candidate that has a chance against a chosen candidate of the Western states that dominate these institutions. Ultimately, resolving that coordination problem – ie, getting China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa to agree on a common candidate – may be a more difficult challenge than getting the US and Europe to foresake their self-interests for the principle of democratic global governance.


IMF: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

I find myself impressed with the obvious talents of Christine Lagarde, the current French Finance Minister and lead candidate for Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s replacement at the IMF (just endorsed by the G8 today ). I am admittedly drawn to the idea of appointing the first women to ever head the Fund, a testosterone-driven organization if there ever was one. Yet the fawning news coverage of the stylish Lagarde (see Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in the New York Times today) also leaves me with a sinking feeling. The crisis at the helm of the Fund should present an opportunity for change, permitting for the first time in the institution’s history a serious consideration of non-Western candidates for Managing Director. And while ultimately merit should take precedent over nationality, the appointment of a non-Western Managing Director would give a serious boost to the external legitimacy of the Fund and could even be the spark to incite much-needed change in its hierarchical, orthodox culture.

Yet that opportunity seems to be passing by. Over the last week, we have seen most of the viable candidates from the developing world drop out of the race. In turn, we have been deluged with arguments in favor of keeping with tradition, replacing DSK with another European (French again, no less). Worse may be the reason proffered for this – the idea that we need a European at the helm of the Fund at a moment when the institution’s main business happens to be the resolution of Europe’s cascading debt crises. Yet, as my friend and colleague Jacquie Best persuasively argued in this May 28 op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen :

“This argument would be more persuasive if the Europeans hadn’t said precisely the opposite in the past: They had no compunction in taking the helm of the IMF when it was Asia, Latin America or Africa in the grip of economic or financial crisis. In those cases, the fact that the IMF managing director was not from an affected region was seen as irrelevant.”

I find it nearly as shocking that much of the media coverage of Lagarde seems to justify this choice by arguing that Lagarde really isn’t as French as we might think. In fact, she spent nearly two decades living and working in the US. In France, Lagarde is disparagingly referred to as “l’Americaine”, fluent in English and boldly dismissive of French intellectual elitism. But are Lagarde’s American attributes really supposed to make us feel better in this post-crisis era?

As a sidenote, for those concerned about DSK’s welfare : the Fund is apparently providing him with a separation payment of $250,000. This should cover about five months rent in his lavish Tribeca apartment, where he is currently under house arrest.


© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑