That collective sigh you hear is mass relief that Larry Summers will not be the next World Bank president.
In fact, the actual U.S. nominee, Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, seems to be just about as good a pick as we could have expected from President Obama. Kim is not a politician, banker or neocon warlord, as past picks have been, bringing a rare expertise in fighting poverty and disease to a job whose primary focus is, you know, fighting poverty and disease.
He was the director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization (WHO), a co-founder with Paul Farmer of the global non-profit Partners in Health and helped drastically reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in Peru.
Amazingly he also found time to work on his rapping, dancing and singing skills (more on that below).
"The mission of the World Bank is to help lift people out of poverty, and Kim will be the first bank leader who has dedicated most of his professional life to working with and for the world’s poor," wrote Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and another World Bank nominee with a lifetime's worth of poverty-fighting experience, found Kim to be a good enough pick that he stepped aside and threw his support behind him. No public reaction yet from the always-controversial Summers, who was reportedly a candidate for the nomination.
"This could have worked out a whole lot worse," wrote David Dayen of the blog Firedoglake. "Summers would have been a disaster, and the global outcry against his candidacy probably did the trick as far as that went. The Administration could have picked a bigger name with less real-world skills relevant to the job, but instead they appear to have filled it with the best choice on a number of levels."
Some will argue that the U.S. should have stepped aside -- breaking a long-standing agreement with Europe that the World Bank president will always be an American and the International Monetary Fund chief will always be a European -- and nominated somebody from the developing world for the post. But that's unrealistic, as Ezra Klein pointed out yesterday: The U.S. is the World Bank's biggest source of funds, and keeping an American in the post helps assure the money keeps flowing.
Felix Salmon questions whether Kim will be able to go head-to-head with world leaders and convince Republican politicians to keep giving the World Bank money. A fair question, no doubt. And shaking up a big organization where many different countries have competing interests will be hard.
But Kim has already proven himself capable of building global organizations. And, for what it's worth, if it says anything about his diplomatic abilities, Kim is the polar opposite of Larry Summers, in that he exhibits many traits of an actual human being. He was a good sport when Conan O'Brien gently made fun of him at a commencement speech last year and gamely sang, danced and rapped in a "Dartmouth Idol" competition.
"Kim is truly a man for all seasons, equally comfortable behind a microscope as with a microphone–and a pioneer in the treatment of the world’s rural poor," wrote Tom Post in Forbes. "He will bring a radically different approach to the World Bank, just as he has to academic medicine."
Here are some of the past World Bank presidents: