Today’s nomination of Dartmouth president Jim Yong Kim to be president of the World Bank was a narrow escape. There was a chance that President Obama might select a really qualified person: Lawrence Summers, who was often viewed as the lead candidate. But he was obviously unfit: He is a former secretary of the Treasury Department and an award-winning economist. Thus he was of course disqualified.
Kim’s appointment keeps the position in the hands of people who have no training or background in economics. Consider the history. Eugene Meyer, the first president, owned the Washington Post. John McCloy was a lawyer and assistant secretary of war. There was Robert McNamara, appointed in 1968 to salve his conscience about Vietnam after having served as secretary of defense. Barber Conable was an American congressman. Paul Wolfowitz had been deputy secretary of defense. Three selections were commercial bankers— Eugene Black of Chase, A.W. Clausen of Bank of America, and Lewis Preston of J.P. Morgan—and two were investment bankers, George Woods of First Boston and James Wolfensohn of Schroeder’s, Salomon Brothers, and his own firm. The outgoing president, Robert Zoellick, is a lawyer who worked in several U.S. government agencies (not least the famous Fannie Mae).
Nary an economist in the bunch. Now, as to Kim: According to the Washington Post, “Kim, Dartmouth’s leader since July 2009, is a physician by training and an anthropologist. His background is in global health, and he has worked extensively on health issues in the developing world. Kim directed the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization. … Before coming to Dartmouth, Kim held professorships at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.” Thus he is superbly, supremely, unarguably qualified to head the World Health Organization. Oh well.