In "Big is Beautiful?" (March 2007) Marie Dennis rightfully observes that more must be done to help the millions of people living in poverty around the world. But while her argument surely strikes a chord with a socially-conscious audience, she also makes some inaccurate generalizations about the World Bank—and development practitioners in general—that should be addressed.
Dennis' criticism centers on international financial institutions' (the International Monetary Fund and World Bank) preoccupation with macroeconomic liberalization at the expense, she says, of the poor. This criticism suggests that these institutions (especially the IMF) were set up for something other than what we now expect them to deliver. The IMF was supposed to help manage currencies and provide some liquidity in cases of balance of payment problems in the immediate post-World War II era. Currencies are now predominantly floated (i.e., market-influenced), and, one could argue, the original purpose of the institution is no longer a major concern. But as a bureaucracy hoping to maintain itself, it has slowly expanded its mandate in order to remain relevant. The Bank's mission ("a world free from poverty") is still relevant, and it is certainly a major player in development. But it is not the only player, and it is not all-powerful. At best, outsiders like the Bank help to enable internal change in developing countries. So in this sense, IFIs are the victims of Dennis' unreasonable expectations.