TCS Daily

What If Zoellick Picks a Fight?

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - June 5, 2007 12:00 AM

Now that Robert Zoellick has been nominated for the Presidency of the World Bank—and given the near-certainty that he will be approved by the Bank's board—he will need to pursue a set of agenda items in order to change the Bank for the better. Specifically, Zoellick should work to further anti-corruption efforts aimed at turning around the Bank's reputation and enhancing the efficacy of the Bank's work with individual client countries. He should also use his position as President of the Bank to encourage free trade and free market reforms that will position countries to prosper economically in the long run. The better the state of the world economy as a whole, the better the chances that individual countries with improved economies will be able to put World Bank loans to good use instead of wasting the loans.

We know that much of the reason behind the ouster of Paul Wolfowitz from the World Bank had less to do with the fact that he approved of a pay increase for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, and more to do with the fact that he sought to battle corruption at the Bank and among the Bank's client countries. To be sure, Wolfowitz ruffled a great many feathers with his crusade against corruption and his manner turned the Bank against him. But regardless of whether Wolfowitz was impolitic about the way that he battled against World Bank corruption, the fact is that corruption does indeed exist at the Bank and efforts to bring transparency to Bank practices are punished severely.

As such, Zoellick will need to continue to battle against corruption in order for the Bank to regain credibility as an actor on the international economic stage. But instead of battling in the manner that Wolfowitz did, Zoellick would be well-advised to try a different approach.

In his book The Power Game, writer Hedrick Smith notes the work of political scientist E.E. Schattschneider, who wrote of a political tactic called "widening the circle":

. . . [Schattschneider] contended that in every political conflict there are two parties: the actual participants and the audience irresistibly drawn to the scene. "Nothing attracts a crowd as quickly as a fight," Schattschneider wrote. "Nothing is so contagious. Parliamentary debates, jury trials, town meetings, political campaigns, strikes, hearings, all have about them some of the exciting qualities of a fight; all produce dramatic spectacles that are almost irresistibly fascinating to people."

So far, so normal—but Schattschneider's special insight is that the audience determines the outcome of the fight. He cited the Harlem race riot of 1943, which began as a fistfight between a black soldier and a white policeman and mushroomed into a mob scene with looting, four hundred people injured, and millions of dollars in property damage. Schattschneider's point was that if the audience had not joined the two-man fight, it would not have been a big deal. But as the audience joined in, the nature of the fight changed. Schattschneider's moral: "If a fight starts, watch the crowd because the crowd plays the decisive role."

Robert Zoellick should borrow a page from Schattschneider's playbook and "widen the circle" to include allies on his side in his fight to diminish the influence of corruption on the Bank's practices. He should take up any and all opportunities possible to testify before Congress, to speak at press club events and to write articles detailing the extent to which corruption influences the World Bank's practices. He should explain the extent to which corruption among client nations of the Bank keeps the Bank from being able to strengthen the economies of those nations through its lending practices. He should detail the work that he and others are doing to clean up the state of affairs at the Bank and among the Bank's client nations.

Of course, anti-corruption efforts at the World Bank must be pursued for the long term, but the job will be done more quickly and more successfully if Zoellick recruits allies for the cause. Allies are especially needed because the President of the World Bank must at times do battle with the Bank's own bureaucracy and its Board of Governors in order to successfully implement various policies. Zoellick can achieve his goals by using Schattschneiderian techniques to introduce more actors to the fight against World Bank corruption and to give those actors a stake in a successful outcome.

In addition to battling corruption, Zoellick can and should push for a broadening of the free trade and free market agenda as a way to enhance individual national economies and the world economic situation as a whole. He is singularly prepared for the task, having spent the first term of the Bush Administration as the United States Trade Representative. Former Mauritian foreign minister Jayen Cuttatree notes that during the Doha Development Round negotiations, Zoellick evinced a keen interest regarding the issue of development in Africa, which will be a major issue on Zoellick's plate as he prepares to assume the Presidency of the Bank. While a truly global trade liberalization agreement eluded Zoellick during his time as the United States Trade Representative, he was able to cut a number of bilateral trade agreements with various countries and his experience in doing so—along with the contacts he developed with ministerial figures around the world and his vast knowledge of free trade issues—will help Zoellick engender greater progress on the trade liberalization front as President of the World Bank. And there is strong reason to believe that Zoellick will implement the free market agenda so desperately needed to enhance the Bank's ability to work with client nations in order to strengthen their economies. As Irwin Stelzer points out, Zoellick will likely "insist that countries that want loans move in the direction of freer markets." This is welcome news for anyone who wants to see the Bank succeed in its partnerships with client countries.

Robert Zoellick must root out corruption and inculcate a free trade/free market environment in the World Bank and among its clients. If he is able to do so, he will help make the World Bank the force for positive change its founders intended it to be. The job ahead is a tough one. But it can be done. And if it is, the pay-off will be tremendous indeed.


1 Comment

What if?
All these if this, if that; might as well say if my autine had balls, she'd be my uncle. Surely the corrupt functionaries at the WB will fight just as hard to sabotage the new guy too. Maybe they won't find a girlfriend to get to him, but there are many ways that vested interests can sabotage their bosses; happens all the time in government too. The best way would simply be for the US to pull out of the WB and kick out all those lazy, rotten foreign beaurocrats out of the country. Then it would only be the EU supporting the corruption, and the seem to always like that.

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