Justin Lin, World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin, from China, is the first person from the developing world to be appointed the World Bank's Chief Economist. This is perhaps the most powerful policy-making position in the institution. He is also its Senior Vice President, Development Economics. He guides the Bank's intellectual leadership and shapes the economic research agenda of the institution. Here he discusses with Anver Versi how Africa can transform itself from a poor region to a wealthy one over a relatively short space of time.
Lin is working on an ambitious research programme that examines the industrialisation of rapidly developing countries and throws new light on the causes of lagging growth in poor regions. Lin's appointment to this critical position reflects the swing of the economic pendulum to the East. His economic ideas are shaped by the realities of the developing world rather than the certainties of the developed countries. He holds no truck with the idea that poor countries have to remain poor - "poverty is not a destiny", he told me. He wants to reduce poverty faster - "in other words, accelerate wealth creation" and plans to shape World Bank policies to his end.
Justin Lin's appointment at this stage in Africa's development has come as heavensent. For years, Africans have argued, in vain, that the Bank's policy directives, derived from the Western economic models, were not suitable for developing nations. Lin has already rejected the 'one size fits all' philosophy and set in motion programmes that will hopefully accelerate wealth creation for the developing world, including Africa.
My first question to him was why some countries were poor while others were rich. "All countries started out poor - labour working on the land or water for sustenance and using whatever resources they had to provide for their urgent needs. The accumulation of wealth began with recognition of comparative advantage. This lead to the accumulation of surpluses - grain, for example, or labour. These could be used to increase surplus and on and on."
The great civilizations of the Middle East and Egypt were built through food surpluses which were used as payment and finance, and the surplus labour could be put to work on the land, produce articles and form armies.
"Nothing much has changed," insists Lin. "To create wealth, you have to go through the same stages." With the experience of China to back his ideas, he explains the stages this way: "First look at your comparative advantages. What do you have that be put to good...