The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years

The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years

The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years

The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years


The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years is a fascinating study of economic history. This text describes perhaps what is the most crucial time for development economics: the birth of the "third world," the creation of development economics as a discipline, and the establishment of the World Bank's leading role in development.

Using previously unavailable archival material, Michele Alacevich takes a close look at the years during which the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development- now known as the World Bank- turned its attention from reconstruction to development, having been upstaged by the Marshall Plan. He describes the "Currie Mission" to Colombia (1949- 1954), the World Bank's first general survey mission in a developing nation. With the Currie Mission as a starting point and a case study, Alacevich analyzes the complexities of the Bank's first steps toward economic and social development in poorer nations, and helps the reader understand some foundational questions about development that are still of great relevance today.

The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years is essential reading for anyone interested in the economic history of international development as a lens for better understanding current development issues.


This book is about the early years of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), commonly known as the World Bank, when it faced the issue of development for the first time, which is now central to its mission. The book concerns mainly the way in which the Bank interpreted its mission and, more specifically, with how its persona came into being: what events gave shape to it, what cultural and ideological baggage it carried, and in what historical context it took place.

Today, the World Bank takes an all-inclusive approach to development. It can be very instructive to study the antecedents of this approach during the years when it was still believed that economic growth is not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition for the development of a country. Doing so helps us understand why this concept of development did not succeed. Of course, as Paul Streeten rightly reminds us, even during the 1950s “sensible economists and planners were quite clear (in spite of what is now often said in a caricature of past thinking) that growth is not an end in itself, but a performance test of development” (Streeten et al. 1981, p. 9). However, in

It is useful to clarify from the beginning the name of the institution. The expression “the
World Bank” was created by the media soon after the institution was established. The actual
name was the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). When the IBRD
was joined by its first two affiliates, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), established in
1956, and the International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, the expression
“the World Bank” was used at an official level to indicate IBRD and IDA together (but not the
IFC). Later, the entire group was called the World Bank Group: IBRD plus IDA, IFC, the Inter
national Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes
(ICSID), established in 1966, and the
Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), established in 1988. In this book, I will pri
marily use “the International Bank” or simply “the Bank” because this was what the institution
was called in the documents that I examined for the years being considered.

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