Friday, May 18, 2007

Charitable Wolfiness

Paul Wolfowitz is “shocked, shocked” to be driven out of the World Bank unceremoniously, and somehow managed to negotiate a $400,000 severance check and a good recommendation as he leaves. Mr. Wolfowitz, after all, was doing charity work at the World Bank, and those ungrateful poor people didn’t appreciate him.

What brought Wolfie down was what used to be called “nepotism”, or the securing of favors for family members. If you thought the “old boys’ network” went out when women started running corporations and government departments, you know now that connections still bring privileges. While lower-tier employees in both business and government take civil service or promotional exams, those at the top take care of their own. At least in Wolfowitz’s case it was a well-qualified woman who got a better job and a bigger salary, but that doesn’t excuse the incident.

According to Wolfie’s defenders, who to my dismay include Julian Bond, the Wolfman is a man with great concern for the poor and strong philanthropic interest in decreasing world poverty without redistributing wealth or promoting birth control. Over the past 10 years or so, the philanthropy sector has grown increasingly judgmental, bossy, and entitled. The big funders now insist that non-profit service and advocacy groups adopt the corporate fads of mission statements, benchmarks, strategic planning, re-branding, and market research. The trappings blur the distinction between corporate managers and do-gooders, who apparently did little good before they were funded for “capacity-building”. The World Bank is one of many funders with its own agenda, a know-it-all attitude, and no apparent accountability.

Like other big funders, the World Bank has an over-inflated sense of its own importance, but I’m sure Wolfowitz considers the Bank to be small potatoes. After all, the World Bank distributes only $20 billion a year collected from a diverse group of member countries. Multiply that amount by five and you’ll approximate the U.S. taxpayers’ expenditures on Wolfie’s last project, the Iraq war. No wonder Mr. Wolfowitz thinks the Board of the World Bank should praise him for getting a better job for his lover. World Bank employees, after all, are sacrificing great gains to do their charitable work.

There’s an opportunity now to bring in a true anti-poverty manager to the World Bank, and I think Bush should find someone who has led a diverse organization whose mission is to improve the lives of the people it serves. In keeping with the Bush administration’s faith-based guidelines, I nominate Lt. Colonel Daniel Starrett, Executive Director of the Salvation Army World Service Organization. I don’t know the Colonel, but I know the Salvation Army runs good programs, uses funds wisely, and operates from a desire to do good, without much in the way of political considerations. Even the Bush administration could not fault the Salvation Army.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wolfowitz, I’m sure there’s a university or a foundation somewhere that will welcome you to a job with a higher salary and less public attention. You’re going to have to show some humility if you truly want to establish a reputation as an honest person doing good.

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