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World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on revolutionizing how we treat the world's poor

President Obama Announces The Nomination Of Jim Yong Kim To Head World Bank
President Obama announces the nomination of Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

"To say that there is not enough money is just a lie. There's plenty of money in the world; it's just not going to health care for poor people." — Dr. Jim Yong Kim

As president of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim now oversees 15,000 employees responsible for using about $200 billion in loans to lift as many people out of global poverty as possible.

It's an enormous task. But it's also one that Kim has been thinking about since he founded Partners in Health, a radical health care project in Haiti that revolutionized the way we treat the world's poor (and was immortalized in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains).

I recently interviewed Kim for my podcast, and it was a delight. Kim has kept the public intellectual's habit of saying interesting things about an almost endless number of topics rather than the bureaucrat's tendency to say dull things about a very narrow band of issues. You can listen to the conversation by subscribing to my podcast or streaming it on SoundCloud. Here's a small sampling of the topics we touched on in our interview:

  • The racial discrimination Kim faced growing up in a small Iowa town. "The kids at the day care center I used to go to used to call me 'Flat-Face' — literally slapped me across the face and called me Flat Face," Kim says.
  • What it was like, as a 12-year-old, to go to an antiwar rally in the early 1970s with his mom and friends. "Everyone had long hair; everyone was smoking pot everywhere," Kim says. "To listen to George McGovern talk about the war was just a great experience."
  • What Kim learned studying the sale of bears' gallbladders in South Korea.
  • How the critiques of "authenticity" by French poststructuralist philosophers like Jacques Derrida helped play a transformational role in Kim's life.
  • What he realized when he idealistically returned to South Korea as an adult, only to find out they didn't actually need his help.
  • How he and Paul Farmer met, and why their partnership was so successful.
  • How Kim manages a 15,000-person organization with staff scattered all over the world and speaking dozens of different languages.
  • The importance of Catholic liberation theology, particularly that articulated by Brazilian Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in influencing the thinking of Kim and Farmer, his colleague.
  • Why Kim loves the raunchy crime yarns of Florida chronicler Carl Hiaasen, author of Striptease.

A big thanks again to Kim for taking so much time for this conversation. And for more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, political scientist Theda Skocpol, and conservative activist Michael Needham — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.