Larry Summers has been unnaturally silent on President Obama’s surprise decision to pass him over for the World Bank presidency in favor of Dartmouth University president and public health hero Jim Yong Kim. Well, one of Summers’ closest chums at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Lant Pritchett, has now gone public with a scorching blast at Kim. Pritchett told Forbes magazine, “It’s an embarrassment to the U.S. You cannot with a straight face say this person is the most qualified to lead the World Bank.”
It was Pritchett, while working under Summers at the World Bank in 1991, who drafted the embarrassing memo that Summers signed on the supposed economic benefits of exporting polluting industries to third world countries. Pritchett later contended that the leaked parts of the memo were doctored to omit his ironic intent. The full memo never surfaced. Pritchett took the fall for Summers’ embarrassment when he was up for the presidency of Harvard. So, it’s fair to say these senior and junior colleagues are close.
Now, it’s possible that Pritchett went public with his startling comments about Dr. Kim without Larry Summers’ consent or knowledge. It’s also possible that subprime bonds are a terrific investment, and that the Red Sox will sweep this year’s World Series.
Pritchett went on, “At best, Kim has worked with ministers of health, but they are in one of many, many government agencies,” says Pritchett. “A minister of finance has to make hard choices across sectors. Having the experience of a minister of finance is the optimal experience for being president of the World Bank.” Pritchett went on to say that nominating Kim “is like picking the shortstop for the New York Yankees out of the scrub leagues.”
Ouch. Those scrub leagues would be Kim’s leadership of the World Health Organization’s department of HIV/AIDS, as well as his co-founding and co-directing of the widely lauded Partners in Health with Dr. Paul Farmer.
Deft office politics and influence via indirection have never been Summers’ strong suit. He functions better as plenipotentiary. I wonder how Summers’ former patron, Barack Obama, will read Pritchett’s comments.