World Bank president talks collaboration

Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, and Ernesto Zedilla, former president of Mexico, discussed the global economy at Luce Hall on Tuesday.
Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, and Ernesto Zedilla, former president of Mexico, discussed the global economy at Luce Hall on Tuesday. Photo by Aaminah Qadir.

World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick says countries need to learn to compromise with one another, because “everyone can’t get what they want.”

Zoellick and Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico and current director the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, spoke about the roles of the US and China as key players in an evolving global economy, emphasizing that they must cooperate with one another to find solutions to crises like the financial recession and climate change. Countries must find a balance between taking responsibility for their individual problems and working together to solve international issues, Zoellick said.

“Americans believe in public service but don’t care about the world enough,” he said. “Avoid bad things. Avoid blaming your country’s problems on other countries.”

The talk filled all the seats in Luce Hall, and over 50 people were turned away at the door by police who claimed it would be a security hazard to allow anyone to stand.

Zoellick described the U.S.’s changing role on the global stage, saying that a century ago, America protected its economy by pulling back from the rest of the world. Today, the country is a stronger, more central player in the world, he said, and no matter what challenges arise, it cannot return to the isolationist policies of the past.

It is vital that currency exchange rates become more “flexible,” or determined by supply and demand, Zoellick said. This change would allow for inevitable fluctuations in the global economy. China’s currency, the Yuan, remains pegged to the U.S. dollar, despite pressure from other countries who want China to let the Yuan’s value respond to market forces. The International Monetary Fund could referee a flexible market, Zoellick said.

With many countries lagging behind economically, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, Zoellick urged that the U.S. needs to step in to help.

“The U.S. needs to sharpen what it wants and needs to move forward first,” he said, adding that he is optimistic that the “deal is doable.” “We need to come up with solutions,” he said.

Zoellick acknowledged that the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (G20), which seeks to address international financial issues, suffers from major problems because countries often refuse to cooperate for common ends.

For example, he said talks about climate change stalled because China would not initially compromise, adding that China’s recent concessions on the environment are “nothing short of miraculous.”

Countries often have internal conflicts and needs that keep them from working well with others, he said, adding that environmental issues are secondary in countries that have more pressing problems. But for that reason, Zoellick urged the U.S. to forge ahead and encourage others to follow.

Zoellick added that he has tried to suggest a more efficient “G15” to replace the G20, which would be globally representative, not dominated by western powers. So far, creating such an organization has proven too complicated, he said.

Two of three students interviewed had mixed feelings about the talk, and about the World Bank’s effectiveness as an organization.

Iro Altraide FES ’12 said she was impressed by Zoellick’s grasp of specific issues and regions, but added that she felt the talk focused too much on successful markets, and not enough on emerging ones.

“A lot of what I heard was centered on successful markets,” she said. “I would have liked to hear more about potential major markets — markets that pose fewer challenges.”

Randall Duchesneau SPH ’12 said he enjoyed the talk and admired Zoellick’s commitment to public service.

Zoellick has led the World Bank since 2007.

Correction: February 11, 2011

The article “Zoellick promotes balance” incorrectly stated that Natalie Langburd ’14 was disappointed by World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s talk.

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