At Large

Here I Come to Save the Day

How I would lead the World Bank.

By 3.20.12

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Recently, Professor Jeffrey Sachs made a public application to be the next president of the World Bank with an op-ed in the Washington Post titled "How I would lead the World Bank." I was not aware they were taking applications, but since they are, I thought I'd throw my name in the ring. 

 I must admit that unlike Mr. Sachs I am not on "a quest to end poverty." It is not that I don't care -- I just lack the self-confidence to believe I have the power to do such a thing. But I am hoping the World Bank presidency might be a good confidence booster. I also confess that until Professor Sachs pointed it out, I didn't know the World Bank was on 18thand Pennsylvania, but now that I do, I too am eager for this challenge.

But enough about me. Let's focus on the issue at hand -- Why I should run the World Bank:

I don't seek the presidency because of the World Bank's track record in "ending poverty." In fact I don't place a lot of faith in the World Bank's ability to solve world poverty. When it comes to alleviating poverty in the developing world, I have a lot more faith in entrepreneurs than I do in internationalista technocrats from the World Bank or any part of the aid industry.

Like Professor Sachs, I am not a Wall Street big player or a Washington insider. But unlike Professor Sachs, I have not spent years at the center of the foreign aid poverty establishment promoting top-down solutions, and advocating for increases in foreign aid despite the evidence that it has not worked. Notwithstanding his self-characterization as an outsider, Professor Sachs was the architect of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which has dominated development policy for the last decade. In this sense, it's somewhat disingenuous for Professor Sachs to portray himself as an outsider. He is a genuine development celebrity. 

But enough of Professor Sachs. Let's get back to me.

I believe that wealth can be created and poverty can be reduced, but I do not believe that international bureaucrats have much of a role to play in realizing such goals.

I believe that focusing on the causes of poverty is the wrong question -- the correct question is what causes wealth?

For this reason, I don't believe that foreign aid is the solution -- or even a solution. It has subsidized corruption and delayed the development of local business. In short, it is generally part of the problem. And I'm not alone in thinking so. There are growing numbers of Africans, Latin Americans, and Asians who are saying no to aid and instead want the chance to have free and fair competition.

I also don't believe the developing world is a lab for Western scientists and technocrats to test out their various utopian theories on others. When I am president of the World Bank, none of these people would be given support to experiment with the lives of others.

In this connection, I should mention that I don't believe in a "scientific" solution to poverty. Nor do I believe that I or anyone else can end poverty "forever." There will always be some poverty because there will always be human weakness, human error. There will always be a need for human love and caring. 

I don't hang out with celebrities and haven't traveled the world with Bono -- not yet at least. (Bono has done much to raise awareness and since I was a fan when I was young and feel some loyalty, I don't want Bono to be behind the times. I'd be happy to help him re-think his advocacy of big aid.) I do not believe that the poor are a different species; that they are somehow different than us. As Ghanaian entrepreneur, Herman Chinery-Hesse said to me. "The people here are not stupid, they're just disconnected from global trade, that's all"

I don't believe in managerial capitalism, corporate capitalism, Davos Capitalism, state-led industrial policies, big business-big government oligarchies, or big UN plans that have dominated developing economies. I believe in a free economy where everyone, especially the poorest, have a chance to compete without having to rely on favors from the social and political elites. I believe that the locus of power needs to be transferred from governments and big aid to local entrepreneurs and leaders

I do not believe people are problem to be solved. I believe that people are the solution to poverty. I believe that people are created in the image of God with dignity and creative capacity and when given the opportunity will create wealth and produce more than they consume.

But if I want to run the World Bank I should at least tell you what I believe.

I believe that wealth can be created when the poor are allowed freedom and opportunity -- when there are private property rights, justice and the rule of law, freedom to start a business without oppressive regulation, and freedom to enter into networks of productivity and "circles of exchange." I believe -- in fact, I know -- that the poor can create wealth and prosperity for themselves, their families and their communities that no state or international agency could ever create.

I actually believe "the children are the future" and therefore think we should be spending resources to keep them alive and to give them opportunity not to reduce population through abortion, sterilization, and making development assistance contingent upon population control. Unlike Professor Sachs, I prefer economic reality to his claim that the world is "bursting at the seams." As president of the World Bank I would stop the funding of abortions that have led to the death of millions of unborn children in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and that has led to what Nicholas Eberstadt documents in his article "The Global War on Baby Girls," and what even the New York Times has described as "The Daughter Deficit" and the Economist has labeled called "Gendercide." As president of the World Bank I would promote a culture that respects all life -- including that of unborn women.

I also believe that the real development professionals are not people like Professor Sachs and certainly not me. I believe the real development professionals are the entrepreneurs and a new generation of local leaders who recognize the creative potential of people. They are the only ones who can create the institutions of wealth creation and long term sustainable development.

On second thought -- I don't really want to be president of the World Bank. In fact, I don't really believe in the World Bank. It was formed at Bretton Woods with the original intent of rebuilding Europe. When this task was taken over by the Marshall Plan, the World Bank, like any bureaucracy worth its salt, went looking for a new mission because, after all, where else would all those technocrats and development specialists work? The World Bank's mission "dreams of world without poverty; to fight poverty with professionalism and lasting results." The best way to fight poverty with lasting results is to allow entrepreneurs and businesses to flourish. I think it would better for everyone if the World Bank were closed down. I am sure there are many fine, dedicated, and well intended people who have worked at the World Bank over the years. Instead of using their talent and knowledge as part of a broken system they could focus on partnering with poor, starting businesses, or maybe become venture capitalists providing investments to help grow local business throughout the developing world.

The developing world doesn't need another neo-colonial master. They've had enough. The poor don't need another development expert. They need partners and access to markets. As a friend says, "We give aid to Africa, but we don't do business with Africa." We've had enough development professionals, celebrity campaigns and wristbands -- its time for something new. It is time to do business.

Let's get started.

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About the Author

Michael Matheson Miller is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he directs PovertyCure, an initiative that promotes enterprise solutions to poverty.