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Wolfensohn Not An Inspiring Choice

I thought that commencement speakers were chosen to inspire graduating students to use the knowledge they had acquired during their tenure as students to make a positive impact on the world. Instead the MIT administration has chosen James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, an institution that has implemented policies that have caused many people in the Third World to suffer.

While the World Bank supposedly has the noble mission of eradicating world poverty, it has failed miserably. An internal World Bank review in 1992 found that one third of its projects were failures. In addition, the final report of the World Commission on Dams released in November 2000 estimates that the World Bank has provided almost $75 billion (in 1998 dollars) for 538 large dams in 92 countries that has resulted in the displacement of more than 10 million people from their homes and land, environmental destruction, and a “lack of equity in the distribution of benefits.” Due to loans from multi-lateral funding agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, private banks, and first world nations, the external debt of developing nations doubled between 1980 and 1993.

On the other hand, the World Bank has been very successful at increasing the gap between poor and wealthy nations by getting an excellent return for its investors from the developed world. U.S. treasury officials have estimated that for every $1 the United States contributes to international development banks, U.S. companies receive more than $2 in contracts. According to the non-governmental organization 50 Years is Enough, of the $2.9 billion provided by the World Bank’s International Development Association (a program that provides long-term loans at zero interest to the poorest of the developing countries), two-thirds was spent on repaying past World Bank loans. A major evaluation of the IDA commissioned by the World Bank and published in Spring 2001 found that the poverty trends in most IDA countries have been disappointing. In fact, developing countries now pay more in debt payments than they get in new credit.

It would seem more appropriate for the administration to invite Mr. Wolfensohn to speak at MIT as part of a forum to allow for debate and discussion about World Bank policies. Instead the MIT administration confers the honor of being the commencement speaker at MIT’s graduation to an individual who leads an organization that uses its expertise to subject the citizens of developing countries to deepening poverty and suffering.

Payal Parekh G