Paul Wolfowitz took over as president of the World Bank yesterday, and despite what many leftist writers think I have a feeling that he'll do more good for the poor of the world than most commentators expect. Even those who don't like him admit that he's smart, and the main complaint seems to be that he seems more keen on lending money for hard infrastructure programs than soft social programs.

For the past decade or two, the World Bank had been making an effort -- or at least talking more -- about making low-to-zero interest loans to social development projects in developing countries, stuff like pensions and education. This is contrast to the old school, wherein the WB would make enormous loans to huge infrastructure projects -- highways, hydropower, etc. -- that would enrich the huge American companies (see: Halliburton) that built them, leave the poor poor, and put the countries themselves in crippling debt to the U.S., which they could never possibly hope to escape from, leaving them, effectively, permanently indentured American colonies.

Except, of course, that many non-American companies win these contracts also. Even in Iraq, which America dominates militarily, the plan Mr. Wolfowitz drafted for reconstruction opened prime contract bidding to 63 countries. Bidding means that the contracts are awarded to the company with the best/cheapest proposal. Even though some countries were (initially) excluded as a matter of American foreign policy, that same explicit consideration wouldn't apply to the World Bank.



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