It has been 50 years to the day that as Treasurer I first spoke to an audience of the World Bank’s investment bankers. Before then, over the 20-year period of its existence, the World Bank had borrowed only $3.5 billion. Today, it borrows almost that much—thanks to you—in just one month. You and your predecessors and those who will follow you have changed the world.
You permitted capital in all its ordinary and arcane forms to be available to the World Bank for lending to countries in need. You financed globalization. And the instruments you created, honed, and polished had a huge effect. The result:
- Far less infant mortality
- Fewer mothers die in childbirth
- 300 million people have moved into the middle class in China
- Fewer 12-year-old girls work knee-deep in rice fields
- Far less starvation
- Hundreds of millions have been vaccinated
- People live longer
- Children are now going to school all over the world in numbers unimaginable even 30 years ago
- Places that wallowed in poverty for 1,000 years now have electricity, roads, ports, schools, dams, water, food.
- Many now have hope. They see their lives and the lives of their children getting better
And that is what your financing has done.
Yes, you can tell your children, who will surely harass you (if they have not already done so) for representing the ultimate establishment—its bankers–that you have facilitated the greatest transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor in the history of humankind. Yes, a building will collapse in Bangladesh. One thousand die. Yes, storms will ravage the Earth in response to our neglect of the environment. Yes, tens of thousands stream across borders fleeing persecution and hardship. Yes, my country has foolishly fueled much hostility. Yes, on too many occasions your excessive risk-taking and your obliviousness to the effects of your actions often caused great damage to our global financial system. But, the fact is there is less violence today borne by a sense of no hope. And there is far less poverty. And that is your doing. No, you will not be remembered by name in 100 years for what you have done. You will not get credit. You will not get that kind of immortality. But, a little girl from Bangladesh, as yet unborn, will one day open these meetings as the president of the World Bank. Or she will take her seat as Secretary General of the United Nations. Or she will discover the way to rid the world of cancer. But, she would not have been born without you. That will bring you a different kind of immortality – invisible yes, but palpable.
On a more personal note, you have been invaluable colleagues and friends over many decades, for which I am most grateful. I am not sure when we will see each other again. I am reminded of a poem by Byron.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.