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The World Bank: the impossible job?

The World Bank is where finance and politics meet. The scope of its mandate and its ability to effect change have attracted some of both disciplines’ brightest minds to its presidency. But do the conflicting demands of the role mean that all careers at its head are destined to end in failure?

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Illustration: Morten Morland



The first annual World Bank/IMF meeting attended by Euromoney, which took place in Copenhagen in 1970, was an unusually rambunctious affair. There had been plenty of animated disputes behind closed doors at previous annual meetings. But Copenhagen was the first occasion on which angry mobs had taken to the streets to protest against individuals as well as institutions they pilloried as agents of neo-colonialism.

The individual targeted by the Danish demonstrators, many of whom waved North Vietnamese flags, was Robert McNamara, who had taken up the World Bank presidency in 1968. Previously, he had served as defence secretary under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, which is why he was denounced as a war criminal by the Copenhagen mob.