Pro Bono Work at the World Bank?

There’s a somewhat strange meme (really mini-meme) slowly starting to make the rounds of the world’s press: Bono (that’s right, U2’s lead singer) as candidate to replace World Bank president James Wolfensohn after his scheduled departure this upcoming May. American readers may be more familiar with this concept than most, since I understand that Treasury Secretary John Snow advanced something like that idea recently on the ABC television network.

The thought didn’t start with Snow, however, as Ruurd Ubels makes clear in coverage of the issue in the Netherlands’ Nederlands Dagblad. (That’s the openly “Christian” – meaning Reformed Protestant – Dutch newspaper.)

And it’s rather good to learn that it didn’t start there, since Snow is burdened with the label inherent to the Treasury position (and, indeed, most cabinet posts) in the George W. Bush administration: namely, “little more credible than your average salesman.” But how about the Los Angeles Times? That’s where this whole idea originated, writes Ubels, in an article last week, so that Snow’s on-camera endorsement might instead signify this thing starting to gather some momentum.

“Now what’s this all about?” you might ask. In fact, if you’re particularly on-the-ball (as Ubels is here – but then again, it’s more-or-less his job to be), you might add “After all, the 44-year-old singer known in real-life as Paul David Hewson has never had any economics or financial training to speak of!” And indeed, Ubels cites one perceptive on-line LA Times reader who, in comments left on the site, made the intriguing analogy that appointing Bono to head the World Bank would be equivalent to making Bill Clinton a concert saxofonist.

Nonetheless, Ubels has the Times gamely holding on to this rather bizarre idea. (I have to take his word on it, in Dutch, from the Nederlands Dagblad article I link to here; I can’t get the original Feb. 25 editorial, although anyone can buy it here.) After all, in the first place, from 1999 he has been very politically engaged in the issues of Third World debt and trade regimes. He is used to hob-nobbing with the great and the good international policy-makers in these areas. Finally, Bono would be able to rely on an excellent World Bank staff to brief him on the economic and financial angles, while he has bundles of invaluable charisma to exert in order to get things done.

But back to that Bill Clinton analogy: All this Bono stuff is amusing, all right, but in real-life the clever money would be on Bill Clinton himself as next to take up that World Bank top spot. Except that, Ubels reminds us, while theoretically the top management of the World Bank decides on who will be that institution’s president, in reality it’s the man in the Oval Office who has the final say. And, need I remind you, that current occupant is not only Republican but rabid on the subject of who is “with him” and who is “against him,” and also explicitly ran against all that Bill Clinton supposedly stood for back in 2000.

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