So What Does The World Bank Do Exactly?
by James Corbett, ZenGardner As many have heard by now, the leaders of the so-called BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – used the occasion of the 6th BRICS Summit in Brasilia, Brazil to announce the creation of the long-awaited BRICS Development Bank. Formally the “New Development Bank”, it will be based in Shanghai and capitalized with an initial $10 billion in cash ($2 billion from each of the five founding members) and $40 billion in guarantees, to be built up to a total of $100 billion. Immediately, the press began touting the new bank as a potential rival to the current IMF / World Bank system of infrastructure development and poverty reduction in the third world. “BRICS Development Bank Could Challenge World Bank and IMF” touts US News & World Report. “BRICS Ink $50 Billion Lender in World Bank, IMF Challenge” asserts Bloomberg. The World Bank, for its part, is downplaying the rivalry, with World Bank President Jim Young Kim openly welcoming the bank at a recent meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The only competition we have is with poverty”, he told reporters at the meeting. But all of this talk about a potential rival to the IMF and World Bank have exposed the general public’s ignorance about what exactly these institutions are and what they do. While most are familiar with the IMF and its predatory lending practices (and those who aren’t are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the “IMF riot” strategy that was developed in the third world and is now being imported to Europe), the World Bank is less scrutinized and less understood. What is it, what does it do, and why is it important for the BRICS to challenge its hegemony in the development and poverty reduction arenas? For the answer to that, we’ll need to examine the World Bank’s history, both the official history that it touts to the outside world and the real history of its part in plundering the developing world that it is supposedly there to help.
The Official Story
The World Bank was born along with the IMF at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that decided on the financial architecture of the post-WWII world, only at that time it was known as the “International Bank for Reconstruction and Development” and was concerned primarily with post-war reconstruction of Europe. After the implementation of the Marshall Plan in 1947, however, its focus shifted to the non-European world where it provided development loans targeted at helping developing countries create income-generating infrastructure (power plants, seaports, highways, etc.). From the very beginning there have been questions about the overlap of the IMF and World Bank’s respective roles. Both are committed, according to the IMF website, to “raising living standards in their member countries,” but the IMF is financial in nature, concentrating on short and medium-term loans to help countries meet balance of payment needs , while the World Bank is fundamentally a development institution, focusing on technical and financial support for specific projects or sectoral reforms. Part of the confusion is linguistic; at the first ever meeting meeting of the IMF the “father” of Bretton Woods, John Maynard Keynes (who else?), confessed he thought the Fund should be called a bank and the Bank should be called a fund. Nevertheless, the monikers have stuck and the World Bank and IMF continue to talk the talk of global infrastructure development and poverty reduction. Since the World Bank pivoted away from Europe to concentrate on the developing world in the late 1940s, it has lent more than $330 billion on infrastructure development projects. It currently boasts $232.8 billion in total subscribed capital, overseeing $358.9 billion in total assets. The World Bank concentrates its lending on creditworthy governments of developing nations, and splits its lending activities between the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA). The IBRD generally provides 12-15 year loans at slightly above market rates to countries with per capita GDPs above $1305. The IDA, meanwhile, provides interest-free 35 to 40 year loans to countries with per capita GDPs below the $1305 mark. Unlike the IMF, which is funded by quota subscriptions from member countries, the World Bank finances its lending by borrowing on the international bond market. As a result, for the first decades of its existence the World Bank was concerned with building up its reputation as a lender and establishing its own creditworthiness. Until 1968, the Bank was a relatively small institution with less than 1000 employees concentrated in Washington that concerned itself almost exclusively with loans designed to finance transportation and energy infrastructure projects. Continue Reading>>>