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Historical Dictionary of the World Bank

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 1998
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Historical Dictionary of the World Bank

Anne C M Salda

Scarecrow Press, Lanham. Maryland, xxiv + 281 pp., $68 (cloth).

How is one to encapsulate, in 305 printed pages, fifty-plus years of the personal, political, institutional, and policymaking history of an organization as complex and diverse as the World Bank? Edward S. Mason and Robert E. Asher (The World Bank Since Bretton Woods, published by the Brookings Institution in 1973) needed 942 pages, and they covered only the first 25 years. The recent history by Devesh Kapur, John P. Lewis, and Richard Webb (The World Bank: Its First Half Century, published by Brookings in 1997) extends to almost 2,100 pages in two volumes and weighs in at seven and a half pounds.

The volume under review is clearly far more modest in its scope and ambition (and weight) than those, and is no less valuable for that. It deserves a permanent place in any World Bank briefcase. I wish it had been available to me during my career as the Bank’s publisher, when I was from time to time called upon to address groups of various kinds about the growth and development of the institution.

Thumbnail sketches of the Bank’s country and sector policies, brief histories of country relations, and explanations of organizational and bureaucratic complexities and affinities were at that time surprisingly hard to find. Anne Salda, who worked for more than twenty years in the joint World Bank-IMF library, has placed us in her debt by producing a clear and comprehensive reference work.

She begins with a useful chronology and a 23-page introduction that is a model of lucidity and compression. She covers the passing decades a page at a time and finds room for handy “speaker’s notes” on the International Finance Corporation, International Development Association, International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. The dictionary proper begins with AIDS and ends with World Tables. In between are brief biographies of all nine presidents, discussions of sector policy (from agriculture to wildlife management), relevant United Nations agencies, and valiant attempts to explain such arcana as negative pledge clauses.

Nor does she avoid controversy. Entries on governance, the Narmada River project (listed under Sardar Sarovar), and Arun III (under World Bank Inspection Panel), for example, give judicious hints of some of the turmoil surrounding such issues and projects. But this is very much a librarian’s book, drawn, as Mrs. Salda makes perfectly clear in the acknowledgments, largely from “official” sources. The bibliography occupies almost a fifth of the space, and one has to wonder whether it is really necessary, in this age of electronic retrieval, to list so many periodical articles, country studies, and discussion papers. The statistical appendix, confined as it is to subscriptions to the World Bank’s capital stock, country eligibility for borrowing, and lending totals by sector for 1994 and 1995, is of limited use.

The book is stronger on process than policy, on organization than analysis. President Barber Conable’s 1987 reorganization, for example, is mentioned without a word about the reason for it—the refusal of the major shareholders to support the first budget Conable presented to the Executive Board. The Operations Evaluation Department’s (OED) role and functions are admirably described, but there is no discussion of the trend of its findings over time. No link is shown between OED’s findings and the growing emphasis, beginning with Lewis Preston’s presidency, on implementation and effectiveness.

Aside from the nine presidents, personalities get short shrift. Lord Keynes is there, as one would expect, and Harry Dexter White, but the only officers of the Bank to be included are Aron Broches, Robert Garner, Eugene Rotberg, Ernest Stern, and Willi Wapenhans. The absence of an entry for Moeen Qureshi seems astonishing.

Lack of space cannot be adduced in mitigation. Books are customarily printed in multiples of 16 pages. Because this book’s contents run to 305 pages, the publisher has left 15 blank pages at the end of the book—useful for making notes but not for much else.

While there are certainly elements of the book that might have been done better, it remains probably the most useful brief source on its subject, and that is a great deal to be thankful for.

James Feather

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