RAY SUAREZ: What do people understand the purpose of the World Bank to be?Zoellick is an alumnus of the same college that someone I know and yours truly attended--Swarthmore College, a small Quaker liberal arts school, where he graduated with "Highest Honors" a few years ahead of us. He was already known for being the smartest student on campus. One legendary story has it that at his Honors examination, he ran out of time. When the proctor asked for his blue book, he snapped that he wasn't finished yet--and the proctor allowed him to take more than the alloted hours. Good for him.
SEBASTIAN MALLABY: In a very general sense, everyone says -- and that's right -- the World Bank's purpose is to relieve poverty. The difficulty comes when you try to define, what do you do to relieve poverty? Because it's a multifaceted problem.
You know, more roads in some areas in rural Africa can help you to get farm goods out to the market, and that can relieve poverty. Or it could be that you need to have more clinics, so people are well enough to actually work. Or perhaps they need education.
Or maybe the macroeconomic environment around all these things need to be right, because if you've got hyperinflation, no one can get out of poverty. Or maybe it's corruption. So there are all these different issues under the heading of poverty relief, and that's where I think Zoellick needs to pick a theme, partly just for sort of inspiring people to believe in it. You can't just say, "I'm for everything." You've got to say, "Here's where I'm trying to focus. Here is my vision."
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor, with more than 180 members, does an answer to the question, "What is the World Bank for in 2007?" Does the answer depend on who you ask?
KENNETH ROGOFF: Absolutely. I mean, it's an incredible muddle. The World Bank is a sponge for every do-good idea to relieve poverty. I think Sebastian is absolutely right that the next president, Zoellick, needs to regain its focus.
They haven't just experienced mission creep; they've had mission sprawl. They're just all over the place in religion, in gender and development, health and development, education development, microstructure and development, all good things, and there are dozens others, but they simply can't do it all. They need to have more focus.
And I think that the top priority for Zoellick is very quickly to get an idea, "In five years, where do I want the bank to be? What is my vision?" And try to execute it in a way that brings everybody on board and doesn't just try to, you know, do it by himself, but he has to think about it.
Yet, given his "Highest Honors" degree from Swarthmore, and his track record as aide to James Baker and other Bushies, one might predict that Zoellick would make an intelligent and hardworking head of the World Bank (Swarthmore traditionally churns out grinds to do the scutwork for Harvard and Yale graduates, which is where George W. Bush went to school). On the other hand, his very Swarthmore success indicates that Zoellick probably would make a rather unimaginative and conventional president for the international lending institution...