James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank Group (WBG), speaking to a large crowd in Zellerbach Theater, said that world leaders needed to follow up their rhetoric more closely with decisive action to promote the benefits of economic globalization.
Wolfensohn began the 2003 Granoff Forum on International Development and the Global Economy by highlighting the unbalanced distribution of wealth in the world today, and urging students and faculty to become involved with positive efforts to combat global inequality.
Wolfensohn explained that the WBG was not a vehicle of oppression, but an organization committed to economic freedom in the developing world, noting that its effectiveness is dependent upon the rate of global economic growth and the environment of geopolitics. “Of course it is hard to keep balance when conflict is proceeding,” Wolfensohn said. He also admitted that conflict in the developing world was nothing new, and that the WBG was still operating as it had before.
As with most of Wolfensohn’s public appearances, the event was subject to some controversy, as a small but very vocal group of anti-globalization protesters interrupted the decorum of the question-and-answer period to voice their dismay.
One protester, who gave his name as Peter Kropotkin of Philadelphia and claimed to be an economics major at Penn, grabbed the microphone and let loose a stream of mostly incoherent invective at the stage. It was later deterimined that neither Kropotkin nor his cohorts were students at any university, but had gained entry through the help of unnamed Penn affiliates. They boasted that much of their speech had been drawn from “anarchical-communist” web sites.
Though most of the audience members sat in shocked silence, Wolfensohn seemed comfortable with the verbal assault, and eased the crowd into laughter with a sanguine reply, “I don’t mind that stuff. I have heard that in English, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.”
In response to other less contentious queries, Wolfensohn declared that the education and enfranchisement of women was of the utmost importance; without greater equality, economic growth is susceptible to stagnation.
The Granoff Forum was established in 2000 by a gift from Michael Granoff (C’80).
Originally published on April 17, 2003