The World Bank lends money to developing countries but also considers itself a "knowledge bank." Its advice can influence government policies as well as its own future policies.
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The question is, how valuable is that advice? Not even the bank's chief economist, Senior Vice President Francois Bourguignon, could answer that.
So he asked a group of economists, led by Angus Deaton at Princeton University, to do an independent study. They examined all research activities carried out by the World Bank between nineteen ninety-eight and two thousand five.
Last September, they reported finding many valuable studies. But they also found that advice from the bank was not always balanced. They said the bank sometimes gave greater weight to information that supported its positions and ignored other findings.
Professor Deaton tells us this was especially true with research on the relationship between globalization and poverty reduction. He says the bank has a right to defend its own policies. But he says untested research cannot be used as evidence that policies work.
Over the years, the World Bank has been a research leader in measuring poverty and inequality. Still, the economists found some studies poorly organized or based on old research methods. They also found the bank's Web site difficult to use.
Angus Deaton says the bank needs a research-based ability to learn from its projects and policies. Without that, he says, it cannot remain the world's leading development agency.
The report says the World Bank should create an independent research group, protected against any political influences. The bank now spends two and one-half percent of its administrative budget on research. Professor Deaton says this is too low, given all the research the bank has to do. He says the need for high-quality advice will only grow as the world becomes richer, and the need for lending shrinks.
Chief economist Francois Bourguignon says research at the bank is a complex process that requires compromises. Yet even with their criticisms, he noted that the economists rated sixty-one percent of the studies they read as being of higher quality. An additional twenty-eight percent were rated average.
He says the advice in the report will be extremely valuable to the bank.
And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. For links to the report and the chief economist's response, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.