Academic journal article Global Governance

The World's Bank and the Bank's World

Academic journal article Global Governance

The World's Bank and the Bank's World

Article excerpt

Who or what shapes and drives the policy and operational behavior of the World Bank? The objective of this essay is to lay the conceptual and empirical framework for this special issue. I begin by constructing a synthetic theoretical model--drawing from principal-agent models and sociological institutionalism--to delineate the set of external and internal factors shaping Bank behavior. I then lay the empirical groundwork by exploring the most salient characteristics of the "world's Bank," taking special note of the Bank's relationship with the United States, borrowing states, and nongovernmental organizations. In the second half, I focus on the "Bank's world," investigating the internal bureaucratic politics and culture of the Bank. Specifically, I examine the sources and nature of the Bank's "intellectual culture" (characterized by its economistic, apolitical, and technical rationality), its "operational culture" (portrayed as driven by approval and disbursement imperatives), and the dynamics of bureaucratic politics that pervade the hierarchy of the Bank. KEYWORDS: World Bank, organizational culture, organizational theory, principal-agent, nongovernmental organizations.

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It is ironic. Former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara, who assumed the presidency of the World Bank in 1968, sought to engender an autonomy, authority, and organizational culture that would enable the Bank to rapidly expand its development lending and expertise, and thus ensure the institution's early success. Paul Wolfowitz, the recent US deputy secretary of defense, took the mantle of the Bank in May 2005. Prior to his resignation in May 2007, Wolfowitz sought to overhaul the very culture his predecessor put in place and to renegotiate the Bank's precarious relationship with its varied political masters in order to rein in mission creep and revitalize the Bank's waning effectiveness and legitimacy. The new Bank president, Robert Zoellick, faces similar tasks, even more daunting in the wake of the scandal surrounding Wolfowitz's early departure. Indeed, the president of the World Bank has often been able to mold the institution in his image. Yet over time, as the Bank aged and grew in size, the influence of its leaders has been muted by the push and pull of two factors: the complex politics of the Bank's external environment versus the bureaucratic politics and cultural dynamics of its internal environment. This has led to an enduring puzzle for scholars. What exactly shapes and drives the policy and operational behavior of the World Bank?

The research articles in this special issue of Global Governance seek to explain the dynamic set of factors and subsequent patterns of behavior that we associate with the "world's Bank" and the "Bank's world" and that we use to explain our observations about Bank behavior. Specifically, the articles tackle some of the most salient questions surrounding the Bank: the question of who or what compels the Bank to adopt certain development norms (such as Susan Park's examination of the International Finance Corporation [IFC] and environmental norms), how certain development ideas and policies are produced (Antje Vetterlein's analysis of social policy), and the implementation of espoused values (Judith Teichman's investigation of civil society participation in conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Chile).

The purpose of this framework essay is to provide the analytical tools and empirical concepts that will be taken up in the ensuing case studies. I begin by constructing a synthetic theoretical model--drawing from principal-agent models and sociological organizational theory--to delineate the set of external and internal factors shaping Bank behavior. I then lay the empirical groundwork by exploring the most salient characteristics of the "world's Bank," taking special note of the Bank's relationship with the United States, borrowing states, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). …

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