World Bank President delivers speech ahead of Annual Meetings

The Faculty of Arts and the Desautels Faculty of Management hosted World Bank Group President David Malpass on Oct. 7 in the Strathcona Music Building. Malpass addressed topics related to the institutions’ policy agenda, which include pro-market liberalization and addressing climate change, setting the tone for the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings being held this week in Washington, DC Oct. 14–20.

Malpass was nominated to head the World Bank by US  President Donald Trump after having served as his senior economic advisor during the 2016 election campaign. After his tenureship as the American Under-Secretary of the Treasury for International, Malpass’ nomination was unanimously approved by the Bank’s 25-member executive board this year on Apr. 5. This marked the beginning of his responsibilities as the leader of one of the world’s largest providers of development loans to governments.

Following an introduction by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts Antonia Maioni and McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier, Malpass spoke about the important role that technology plays in lifting people out of extreme poverty by enabling growth and reducing inequality.

“We’re almost at the point of having secure systems that would allow poor people to electronically receive remittances, foreign aid, and social safety net payments, as well as their earnings, and then be allowed to save and transact freely,” Malpass said. “That [will] be revolutionary, because it [will allow] people the freedom and opportunity they need to improve their living conditions.”

The World Bank estimates that the global labor force will grow to 620 million people from 2020 to 2035, while economic growth worldwide is predicted to taper off.

“With most of the growth in the poorest countries, employment is the best safety net,” Malpass said. “With global growth slowing, it’s paramount that countries carry out well designed structural reforms to ignite domestic growth.”

Malpass also spoke about the challenges posed by climate change, which risk hindering the organisation’s mission of ending poverty and promoting global prosperity.

“In November [2018], the World Bank announced a $200 billion five-year target to help the countries address climate challenges, [stressing the importance of the implementation of both adaptation and mitigation strategies],” Malpass said. “At the recent United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, I [also] joined Germany in announcing PROGREEN, a fund that will address a range of climate and environmental problems.”

Following Malpass’ speech, Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou moderated a short Q&A session between the guest speaker and the students in the audience.

However, the event left some students disappointed by the message that David Malpass delivered. Alexandre Caillon, U3 Arts, was concerned about the implications behind the institution’s focus on using economic indicators for assessing development.

“Without surprise, [Malpass] promoted the role of private actors and alleviating barriers to trade to boost development and tackle social issues, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Caillon said. “I’m just worried about the overly pro-market, pro-US, pro-[trade] liberalization ideology it may hide.” 

Many students were unsatisfied at the end of Malpass’ talk due to his ambiguous responses to their questions. 

“[It] was slightly unsettling to see in person how an important policy and development leader on the international stage could be quite vague in response to pointed questions asked specifically by students,” Shannon Greisman, U2 Arts, said. “A lot of his answers seemed to me a little bit evasive or vague. This is what we’ve come to expect of our political and global leaders [but] it was a new and unsettling experience for me to see it in person.”

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