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A Global Consensus on Reforming IMF Leadership Selection: David Wheeler


When Dominique Straus-Kahn resigned suddenly as head of the International Monetary Fund last May, the world was thrown unexpectedly into search for his successor. Within days, CGD launched a survey of the global development community opinion on three issues: the selection process, criteria for rating the candidates, and ratings for 15 candidates identified in international media.

My guest on this Wonkcast is David Wheeler, who led the survey and a similar survey on the process for selecting the president of the World Bank when Paul Wolfowitz resigned from that post in 2007. The big take away (summarized in CGD working papers here and here): Regardless of nationality, a huge majority of respondents agree on the need to reform the leadership selection processes for the two Bretton Woods institutions.

“We were impressed both by the size of the population, given the rapid turnaround, and by its diversity,” David tells me. For the IMF survey, he says, about 800 people from 80 countries responded, including people from all regions of the world and rich and poor countries.

“The takeaway from this is that the consensus in this community across regions, income groups, professions, classes, and by gender was universally that an open competitive process would be vastly superior to what we have now,” David says.

For the IMF, both European and non-European participants reject Europe’s traditional selection prerogative by large margins, with equally strong support for an open, transparent, competitive selection process. Agreement with an open process characterizes 92 percent of respondents from low-income countries, 90 percent from middle-income countries, and 84 percent from high-income countries.

Respondents also exhibit uniformity in the relative importance they ascribe to six criteria for selecting candidates. The highest overall weight goes to understanding of international monetary and capital market issues, followed by experience with managing economic and financial crises; proven effectiveness as a manager; high-level political and diplomatic experience; high-level international organization experience; and banking and finance experience.

Finally, participants exhibit striking consistency in rating the fifteen candidates. The survey asks participants to rate each candidate on each of the six selection criteria, with a four-point scale. Using a variety of scoring methods, David found a robust division of the candidates into five tiers, three in each tier.

Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister who was ultimately selected as the new managing director of the IMF, is consistently in the highest tier.

“In the final analysis, whatever process was used to select her,” says David, “she does seem to be a person who by consensus in the international community of concern would have been one of the very top candidates.”

“I’ll be fascinated to see how the international community designs a two-stage process that, in the first pass, vets candidates at least informally and in the second pass elects candidates in an open and structured process. Everything we’ve seen in both surveys suggests an overwhelming majority in the community that is concerned about this favor of such an outcome. It wouldn’t surprise me or any of my colleagues here at CGD to see something like that emerge before the next selection process…which might very well be for the next president of the World Bank.”