World Bank’s Star Economist Is Sidelined in War Over Words

The World Bank’s chief economist has been stripped of his management duties after researchers rebelled against his efforts to make them communicate more clearly, including curbs on the written use of “and.”

Paul Romer is relinquishing oversight of the Development Economics Group, the research hub of the Washington-based development lender, according to an internal staff announcement seen by Bloomberg. Kristalina Georgieva, the chief executive for the bank’s biggest fund, will take over management of the unit July 1.

Romer will remain chief economist, providing management with “timely thought leadership on trends directly affecting our client countries, including the ‘future of work,’” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in the note to staff dated May 9.

Romer said he met resistance from staff when he tried to refine the way they communicate. “I was in the position of being the bearer of bad news,” he said in an interview. “It’s possible that I was focusing too much on the precision of the communications and not enough on the feelings my messages would invoke.”

It’s unusual for the World Bank’s chief economist, a role once occupied by heavyweights such as Stanley Fischer and Lawrence Summers, not to run the Development Economics Group, known as DEC, which publishes original research, develops the bank’s forecasts and oversees its data. The move raises questions about how much freedom the bank’s economists will have to do outside-the-box research on policies to help the world’s poorest.

“The chief economist is essentially parachuted into the bank and put in this very exalted position,” said Peter Lanjouw, former head of research into poverty and inequality within DEC.

“It takes some effort to become familiar with the individual researchers in the group and the things that are being done. There was a lot of grumbling that Paul didn’t seem interested,” said…

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