FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Paul Wolfowitz and Haiti

The controversy over World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and the payraise (to $193,590/year) to his Bank colleague and domestic partner, Shaha Riza, has focussed on the propriety of Mr. Wolfowitz’ involvement in the promotion and raise, and the apparent hypocrisy of Mr. Wolfowitz lecturing against corruption in World Bank borrower countries while engaging in questionable practices at the Bank (see a good article in the Washington Post by William Easterly). But there has been very little discussion about the propriety of an institution whose mission is to fight poverty to be paying anyone that much money, and the hypocrisy of the Bank in general telling poor countries to cut salaries for nurses and teachers while it paid such high staff salaries.

The absence of these issues from the debates may be explained by the absence of the voices of the Bank’s supposed constituents- the poor of Haiti and countries like it. The debates have been exclusively framed by relatively wealthy journalists, officials and policy makers living in relatively wealthy countries, with no input from the poor the Bank is supposed to be helping.

The World Bank compares the relative wealth of countries with a figure called per capita GNI (or Gross National Income), which is roughly a country’s annual wealth produced divided by the number of people living there. According to the Bank’s website, Haiti’s per capita GNI is $450, so on average 430 Haitians get by on Ms. Riza’s annual salary.

The World Bank does not release its general salary information, and although Ms. Riza’s salary is probably at the high end of the scale, it is a high scale to begin with. The Bank defends its salaries by saying that its employees live in expensive cities with high rents, and that it needs high salaries to attract the employees it wants- people with excellent resumes and world-class financial and management skills- who are also coveted by the private sector.

Although financial and management skills are vital to the successful operation of any financial institution, the World Bank is not just any bank- its success is supposed to be measured not by profits but by reducing poverty. The Bank has financial policies, but it also has political, moral and social policies: it tells poor governments how much they can spend on healthcare (and implicitly, how many citizens will die of preventable diseases), on education, clean water, roads, etc.

Solid analysis of the financial data is essential for making good economic, moral, political and social policy decisions, but the decisions require other skills as well, including an understanding of the implications of those policies beyond the spreadsheets. Someone making $193,000 year would have only a limited understanding of what healthcare cuts mean to the 430 Haitians struggling to getting by on their share of that amount, a share that leaves no room for health insurance.

I have no reason to doubt that the Bank’s employees do a good job of financial analysis, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt that the institution is effectively fulfilling its poverty-fighting missions. Many of its borrowers are poorer now than they were when the Bank started to help them. Global inequality, as well as death by preventable disease, increases every year. In recent years, countries that have had the opportunity to escape the Bank’s “help” have been willing to pay billions of dollars to do so.

This scandal might be a good opportunity for the Bank to reflect on what kind of an institution it is, and what kind of people it wants to attract. It may find that by emphasizing its mission over salary, that it can find people with the technical skills who are willing to accept as part of their compensation the knowledge that they are working to fight poverty.

BRIAN CONCANNON Jr. is a human rights lawyer and directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, www.ijdh.org

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 09, 2020
John Davis
Freedom Virus
Vincent Emanuele
The New Normal: Cascading and Multilayered Crises
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie’s Last Tape
John O'Kane
Remove the Boomer Virus and What Virus Remains?
Kevin Bixby – Daryl T. Smith
The Border Wall Risks Us All
Nick Pemberton
Could COVID-19 Count Fox News Among Its Victims?
Howard Lisnoff
American Exceptionalism in the Face of Covid-19
Charles Pierson
We Are Living (And Dying) in Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”
Sam Husseini
Sanders Suspends: What Happened? What Now?
Binoy Kampmark
Banal Terrors: Pandemics and the Ordinary Business of War
Ted Rall
Why We Need a New Progressive Party and How We Can Create It
Walden Bello
Martin Khor: the Making of a Global Activist
Ariel Dorfman
COVID-19 and the Lessons of Life in Exile
Merriam Ansara
John Lennon in Quarantine: a Letter From Havana
George Wuerthner
Politics and Corruption at Grand Canyon
Eugene Schulman
Lost in the Pandemic: the Forever Wars
Dean Baker
Basic Economics for Economic Columnists: a Depression is a Process, Not an Event
George Ochenski
The Dishonest Mr. Daines
Mike Ferner
Love in a Dangerous Time
Brian Horejsi
Beware Government Secrecy in Times of Pandemic
Sam Pizzigati
No Fennel in the Sausage, No $600 for the Jobless
Jason Christensen – John Carter
Conservation Groups Oppose the Nature Conservancy’s Cattle Grazing Development Project on the Border of Canyonlands National Park
April 08, 2020
Melvin Goodman
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Body Politic
Eve Ottenberg
Amid Plague, Sanctions are Genocide
Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun – Weiyan Zhu
How China Learned About SARS-CoV-2 in the Weeks Before the Global Pandemic
Bill Quigley
Seven Disturbing Facts About COVID-19 in Louisiana
Joyce Nelson
BlackRock Takes Command
Geoff Dutton
Coronavirus as Metaphor: It’s Not Peanuts
Richard Moser
From Strike Wave to General Strike
Gary Leupp
Could COVID-19 Kill Capitalism?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Corona, Capital and Class in Germany
Tom Crofton
Aspirational vs Pragmatic: Why My Radicalness is Getting More Radical
Steve Kelly
Montana Ballot Access Decision Suppresses Green Party Voters
Jacob Hornberger
Muhammad Ali’s Fight Against the Pentagon
Phil Mattera
The Rap Sheets of the Big Ventilator Producers
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19?
Rick Baum
When “Moderate” Democrats Lead the Ticket and Win, Down-Ballot Candidates Soon Suffer Losses
Jake Johnston
Tens of Millions Will Be Pushed into Poverty Amid COVID-Induced Recession
Kim C. Domenico
Healthy and Unhealthy Fear in the Age of Coronavirus
John W. Whitehead
Draconian Lockdown Powers and Civil Liberties
Binoy Kampmark
University Bailouts, Funding and Coronavirus
Luke Ruediger
BLM Timber Sale Increases Fire Risk, Reduces Climate Resilience and Harms Recreation
John Kendall Hawkins
Slavoj Žižek’s Virulent Polemic Against Covid-19, and Stuff!
Nyla Ali Khan
Finding Meaning and Purpose in Adversity
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail