Wednesday, November 2, 2011

BARBER CONABLE b. November 2, 1922

November 2, 1922-November 30, 2003


Member, U.S. House of Representatives (R-NY), 1965-1985
7th President of the World Bank, 1986-1991

The World Bank has a lengthy and informative retrospective of Barber Conable's time as its president here. It points out that the twenty-year Republican Representative from New York "was the first career politician to be appointed president of the Bank, and the only one without substantial Wall Street experience." The New York Times (here) and the Los Angeles Times (here) ran substantive obituaries, but two of the most interesting came from this American politician came from the U.K.

Conable, the Guardian wrote (here), "is best remembered as the man who took the World Bank by the scruff of the neck, totally reorganised its often sclerotic bureaucracy and persuaded the US Congress to double the amounts the bank could disburse to developing nations." He "also engineered a significant shift in the disbursement of this additional cash. He diverted the bank from its previous fascination with glitzy prestige projects towards schemes more clearly designed to relieve poverty. He encouraged far wider education in birth control, without which few Third World women could ever hope to improve their lot. He also insisted that the bank pay greater attention to the environmental impact of the large engineering schemes it decided to support."

The Telegraph noted (here) that Conable also paid attention to "to Eastern Europe as it emerged from Communism and attempted to establish free market economies. 'I pledge to you,' he told the Eastern Europeans, 'you can count on the World Bank in the tough times ahead, not just in the first euphoric moments of change.'"

But he left the World Bank presidency after the end of his single five-year term, not long into the changes in Eastern Europe, when his long friendship with George Bush "turned sour after Bush ascended to the presidency in 1989." (Conable had been appointed by Ronald Reagan.) Bush "'thought I should be supporting an American agenda,' Conable said in 1998. 'I thought I was there to help the poor people. So I got the reputation of not being a team player, and that was the one thing George wouldn't stand for.'"

Finally, more than one of the obituaries noted that during his Congressional career, Conable refused to accept more than fifty dollars from any campaign contributor, "for fear of compromising his integrity."

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