My book at the World Bank's InfoShop


What is Voice for, if you’re not willing to risk making some noise with it! Once when someone here said that luckily the demonstrations against the Bank were not as big as they used to be, I told him that, unfortunately, that could also be a sign that the bank’s own voice was not as noisy as it used to be.

For someone who’d like to speak with all of you for days and days on hundreds of issues—which, of course, could drive you nuts—having to pick out what to tell you in fifteen minutes about my book drives me nuts.

Civil Society?: And so I’ll keep the book closed for now and talk a bit about the photo that appears on the back-cover. It is from a visit to the United Nations in New York where among all the nameplates of different countries, I suddenly saw one that read civil society. I asked myself, how on earth does one get to be named to represent civil society?—whatever that now means. The chamber was not in session at the moment, so I sat down and asked a colleague to take that photo of me which you see on the back cover, and I am now anxiously waiting for someone to challenge me as an impostor, I hope on the ground that it is his or her rightful place.

Mother Earth: But seriously, with reference to the issue of Voice and the possible reshuffling of the current 24 Executive Directors, should it happen, I hope it will be to give representation, perhaps not to Civil Society, which is sort of intangible, but to that very tangible piece of land, water, and air that we all know as Mother Earth. Although we proudly name ourselves the World Bank, the fact is that we are more of a “Pieces of The World Bank,” and it is sad to see how the globe, in these times of globalization, is in fact the most underrepresented constituency. This needs to be fixed, urgently, as we need to be able to stimulate a profoundly shared ownership for the long-term needs of our planet, if we want to survive as a truly civilized society, worthy of the name civilization. As I see it, a couple of truly independent seven-year-term Executive Directors, whose role would be to think about the world of our grandchildren, way beyond the 2015 of the Millennium Development Goals—that is what the World Bank most needs now.

The International Rovers: And, while at it, we should perhaps also ask one of the current Directors to give up his Chair for a new constituency—call it, if you will, the Constituency of the International Rovers, by which I mean all those workers, skilled or unskilled, legal or illegal, who nowadays represent jointly one of the largest economies of the world. By the way, the first thing that the Rovers’ ED would need to do is to make clear the enormous difference that exists between an immigrant with a long-term plan to emigrate from motherland and forever assume a new nationality, and, on the other hand, a temporary worker who just wants to make a buck in order to help his family to a better life, and who wishes with all his heart and soul to return home as soon as possible. Forcing temporary workers to swear allegiances to foreign flags, just so that they can have the right to a better income, cleaning toilets, seems only like a new generation of artificial trade barriers.

The Global Geography: Might we also not be too stuck in the geography of the non-globalized world to be able to see what is truly happening around us? For instance, El Salvador has about 2 million of its people working abroad, more than a third of its total workforce and so if to the current GDP figures of El Salvador we add what these workers are earning, gross, well then perhaps El Salvador’s growth rate could actually be higher than China’s. And you tell me, why should we not do it this way? Is not an El Salvadoran still a real El Salvadoran just because he or she is working abroad? The internal emigration in China from west to east might take a Chinese from 50 to 150 dollars per month, but the El Salvadorans going south to north go from 120 to 1.200, and no one is heard complaining about an over or undervalued currency.

Trade negotiations: And migration leads me to the current trade negotiations. These, unfortunately, instead of opening the gates to the greener pastures that we all look for, and because of their total mercantilist approach, seem more like pushing countries into corrals, just to have them branded. This has to be changed. I know that some of your World Bank colleagues are making big efforts to get the most and best future out of trade, especially in services, and you really need to support them.

Research data: But to move forward in this and many new areas, we have to be able to fix some huge knowledge gaps that still exist within our Knowledge Bank, gaps which mostly result from either the fact that there are no data to research or that the data are so old and have been squeezed and resqueezed way beyond the last drop. Coming as I do from the private sector, I cannot think of one single proposal that I would dare to present to the board of a corporation that includes data from a decade ago, and not data of this year, this month, today, last hour, or even perhaps right now. We must refuse being tail-wagged by the lack of data and must find new and innovative ways of getting our hands on some accurate, timely, and juicy research data. We also need to be able to monitor the outcome of our policy recommendations much faster, preferably in real time, and all this indicates to me that the Bank faces some very important information-gathering and information-processing challenges. One thing I would do, right now, is to require that a panel review the data to be used in any research, ex ante, not only to avoid the waste of resources but also to avoid having to live with dubious research that, ex post, is so much harder to criticize on account of professional solidarity.

Better measures: And once we are looking at the timeliness of data, I also believe that the World Bank has the mandate and the capacity to start developing new data scales that could be more significant. For instance, the GNP figures, currently just the result of additions, could perhaps explain more if we also did some subtractions; like subtraction of the cost of consuming more than your world equitable share of energy; the cost of developing an energy addiction; and perhaps even the cost of the time wasted daily answering automated phone calls from computers that want to get more intimate with your family’s finances.

We live in an ocean of global challenges, and I wish to say a couple of words about two that are especially close to my heart.

The environment: The other day in the Financial Times someone suggested that the solution to USA’s energy problems was to import ethanol from Brazil.” Yes, that should do it! Planting the whole Amazon with sugar cane clearly sounds like the mother of all the effective suicidal methods that the world could ever think of. The Bank has a vital and unique role in lending a guiding hand to the world in all environmental issues, and therefore it is more important than ever that it does not fall into the hands of some special interests. It needs to be extremely alert! On its green toes!

Information overload: Knowledge is fine, but sometimes let’s all remember that ignorance has also its bliss. For instance, the current evolution of genetics will allow for a better profiling of particular health risks and though this will indeed help in their prevention, it could also cause the premiums of insurance to increase dramatically for those not fortunate enough to get good results, something that will put much further strain on solidarity. I have for quite some time voiced a concern that one of the most important pieces of health insurance lacking, is insurance against what they could discover in your genes. I believe that the Bank has a much bigger role to play in looking into the future and alerting us to all the what ifs.

That now takes me to some thorny issues

Fighting entitlements: The Bank’s mission is too important to allow those working there a totally smooth ride. We need to be able to evaluate better what is working and what is not, and in the same way as others are ranked, we should also be able to provide our best 10 and our 10 worst lists. In terms of the budget, and most especially when it is ordered to be flat, one must be able to avoid any type of entitlement allocation, and make certain that what is not working either corrects itself or gets cut out, and that what is truly working receives the support it deserves. By the way, out there in the real world, executive boards are normally supposed to maximize their effectiveness by looking into the outliers, instead of just muddling through the muddled middle. Just in case, the need of working at the extremes is not at all incompatible with my strong belief that you gain clarity by allowing yourself to look at issues from that middle that in these days of polarization might in fact be the only real extreme.

Working on continuums: We also often tend to work on issues that lie on never-ending continuums from zero to unreachable divine perfection, and so it is hard to know where you really find yourself. We therefore might benefit from concentrating our work much more on the lower end of the scales, where things are much clearer. For instance, in my book I mention that when trying to advance Justice, we might be much more effective if we just focus on reducing the most concrete injustices. Instead of building marbled supreme courts, we should be building better prisons, since how on earth can you, in the name of justice, sentence anyone to some of these inhuman hells on earth, without being a bit of a criminal yourself?

The World Bank’s anticorruption fight: Finally a global world that requires so many sacrifices to solve its global problems will not be able to do so if it must swim in too dirty corrupt waters. Therefore, fighting against corruption must be at the top of our agenda. But for that fight to signify more than another flavor of the month, it needs to be completely internalized into a deeply felt organizational modus vivendi. In this respect, the World Bank, while fighting corruption, needs to keep the following in mind:

To invest more scarce resources into anticorruption efforts than what the corruption could itself potentially cost is managerial corruption.

To fight corruption among third parties without fighting it first and foremost among your own is hypocritical corruption.

To create the impression that certain risks of corruption are effectively taken care of is collaborating with and camouflaging for corruption.

To focus the attention on the small fish while letting the big fish free, even though the small can grow to be big, is plain cowardly corruption.

To believe it is only when money is involved that it really matters creates the space for self-righteous corruption.

And finally, to believe that corruption can be contained to some pockets and not contaminate the rest of the world, and that some nations are by nature more immune to it, has nothing to do with corruption; it is just plain stupidity.

And so what shall we do? Well, as Dori in the Finding Nemo movie would have said, “Just keep fighting . . . just keep fighting!” I would recommend that all projects include in their documentation, a very simple one-page Public Notice that lays out the most important risks of corruption in the operation, making clear what World Bank is doing to diminish them but, much more importantly, what it is not in their hands to do. That page should then transparently surf the Web in order to enlist the civil civilians in the fight.

Before I now leave room for what I hope are your not too noisy questions and remarks I wish to say some words of appreciation.

First, my father was my most assiduous reader and he always threw himself into my articles with a gusto that sometimes bordered on gluttony. He passed away less than three months after I became an Executive Director, but I had the blessing of having seen the pride in his eyes before that. I must tell you I would have given anything to have him here sharing this moment with me.

Also, Jim, my editor (James T. McDonough, Jr. ). After reviewing on the Web many sample edits, I finally chose Jim because I liked the tone of his voice on the telephone and in e-mails, and I felt that he was the one who knew the least about the specifics of the issues I was writing about, and was therefore best suited to help me reach out to as many nonexperts in the field as possible. Well, not only did he turn out to be a very good editor but also a very opinionated young man in his seventies, and so many of his comments ended up as an integral part of my book. I appreciate very much his taking time out to be here today with me in the company of his wife, Zaida, who is from faraway Georgia on the Black Sea, and who, I suspect, sometimes used Jim to smuggle her own voice and noise into the book.

Let me also express my most sincere and heartfelt thanks to my two companions here at the podium. Luis Marti, my successor, has clearly shown that he possesses those traits of generosity, intelligence, curiosity, and, first and foremost, that Triple-H factor, humility, humanity and humor, that are so needed for an Executive Director to be able to become a pride for his Chair. Luis, thank you so much for all your support.

Now it was mostly after my term as an Executive Director that I got to know better Alan Winters, as I regularly bumped into him at seminars and InfoShop events. For him I have reserved one of my very special compliments, which is that I would gladly allow him to have a chair, well, even a deanship, in that “guaranteed Ph.D.-free University” that I sometimes dream of. As he is one of the world’s leading specialists on the empirical and policy analysis of international trade, we all are counting much on him to show us the way. Thank you, Alan, and I hope this will count for something in your upcoming remarks.

And of course some words to all those who work at the InfoShop. Over the last year I have been a very frequent attendant at your events, and so you must know I think you’re doing a fabulous job. I most specially congratulate you for helping to give a voice to the so many small but extremely important themes that otherwise would completely drown in our quite boisterous development dialogue. Today let me thank you for organizing this event, and I hope it will not blemish your wonderful track record.

Let me now end, by sincerely expressing my appreciation for all of you being here. If this book is not well received, by all of you, and if what I speak about in it does not really echo in your minds and hearts, then most probably this book will go mute . . . it is as simple as that. And so, friends, now my Voice and Noise is in the hands of all the voicy and noisy support you might be willing to give it . . . . Thank you!