World Bank Book(Shhh!)

Normally, when two Washington bulwarks spend more than USD 2 million for an authorised history, publication is marked by a bang, not a whimper. That´s why people in the economic development field are scratching their heads over the reception of The World Bank: Its First Half Century, a two-volume history authorised by the bank, published by the Brookings Institution and underwritten by both. To say that the 2,000 page tome has been greeted with reticence by the bank doesn´t quite capture its not-so-benign neglect.

The World Bank still has a vast mandate and considerable influence, even though anti-Communism – the primary geopolitical impulse for US participation – has evaporated, and the bank´s net annual lending of USD 7.4 billion represents only 2 to 3 percent of the total flow of capital to developing countries. Simply put, the bank is to economic development theology what the papacy is to Catholicism, complete with yearly encyclicals. The bank, with its 5,400 full-time employees, still leads and other lenders or donors follow. It is particularly instrumental in orienting officials and politicians in poorer countries to economic development, World Bank-style.

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Himal Southasian