I was going to post this morning on more implications of yesterday’s new monthly U.S. trade figures, but as so often happens, the Mainstream Media has just come out with an article whose mind-boggling cluelessness reveals such deep-seated biases that I had to switch gears. Special bonus – it didn’t even come from a mainstay of the establishmentarian U.S. foreign policy and globalization Blob. Instead, we have the Financial Times editorial board to thank.
What other conclusion can be reasonably drawn from the FT editorial slamming President Trump’s appointment of David Malpass to head the World Bank?
Not that Malpass has been God’s Gift to Economics or to the cause of third world economic development. But according to the FT, a big problem with Malpass is that he lacks the leadership experience as well as intellectual and often political heft of previous U.S. choices like – wait for it – Robert S. McNamara.
That’s right – the same Robert McNamara who deserves such blame for the American disaster in Vietnam. What’s next for the FT? Criticizing Mr. Trump for appointing a senior military adviser lacking the battlefield genius of George Armstrong Custer?
Almost as bad: What’s given the FT editorialists the idea that McNamara, or any of his pre-Malpass successors, was such a whiz at the Bank? Here’s an appraisal of McNamara’s tenure arguing that he unintentionally created “incentives for Bank staff and management to push money out the door, sometimes with relatively little regard for how it would be used—a practice that still bedevils the Bank’s work today.” And this was from an admirer.
A second major FT argument against Malpass looks more reasonable at first glance:
“His judgment even on economics, his supposed speciality, is wanting. Notoriously, as then chief economist at Bear Stearns, Mr Malpass was blithely confident about the strength of the US economy in 2007 — a year before the global financial crisis hit and his own employer went under.”
What the FT conveniently forgets, though, is that using this standard would rule out virtually every economist in the world as World Bank president.
Considerably stronger is the FT‘s observation that “As early as 2011 [Malpass] suggested tightening monetary policy and driving up the dollar, a hard-money philosophy entirely at odds with the reality that the Fed had averted economic disaster.”
The problem with this school of thought is that, although the Federal Reserve’s flooding of the American economy with easy money may have been necessary to keep the nation (and world) afloat, it’s also arguably created a global addiction to super-cheap credit that’s kneecapped chances of restoring genuine long-run economic health.
As contended by no less an economic authority than Lawrence Summers (a former World Bank research chief), the result has been “secular stagnation” – the inability of the United States or other major countries to grow acceptably without inflating lending and spending bubbles that are doomed to burst disastrously.
As the editorial makes clear, the FT mainly objects to Malpass because he’s “deeply sceptical of multilateral institutions.” Which would be funny even if the FT itself didn’t describe the Bank as already “dysfunctional” – despite being led by McNamara and all his supposedly genius successors.
More fundamentally, all else equal, why should anyone lack skepticism about any means to an end? Worshiping multilateralism is like worshiping a hammer. Sometimes is the best tool to use; sometimes it’s not.
The FT reasonably argues that “With an increasing number of rival sources of development finance — not to mention private capital — the bank needs to think hard about where it can best add value.” The paper just as reasonably concludes that effecting change requires its president “to be a critical friend of multilateralism who recognises that its institutions need to be adapted to a changing world, not an instinctive ideological enemy.”
But given that these – and other – problems with the Bank have persisted for so long, it’s hard to imagine that a leader accepted by multilateral fetishists like the FT would generate the necessary push.
As a result, the Malpass nomination can just as reasonably be viewed as a Trump administration attempt to change the kind of losing game coddled for so long by diehard multilateralists like the FT editorial board. Such critics should exhibit a little more humility before writing him off as a sure failure. Not to mention minimal historical memory.