Do you have any reflections from your time working at the World Bank?
It was more than three decades. So the lessons are many. But three come immediately to mind. First, learning happens when you work across issues and across geographies. At my farewell party, somebody said: "Marcelo has been Director of everything, everywhere". It is true. And, to me, it was a blessing: you learn when you connect and compare problems and solutions across countries and cultures.
Second, when it comes to development economics, the world (and the World Bank!) has made tremendous progress. Still, we have not yet solved the problem. Too many people still live in poverty. Too many nations do not have basic security---let alone basic institutions. And the global emergencies that affect us all seem out of control---think climate, migration, and corruption.
And third, never underestimate human creativity. Had anyone told me when I started my career four decades ago that I would be able to access all public knowledge in real time with, literally, a small hand-held gadget called a "smartphone", I would have laughed and walked on. And yet, it happened. So, when I hear that, maybe, one day we will be able to access unlimited, sustainable energy for free or tell our genes to fight off all illnesses, I don't laugh.
Who has been a key mentor or source of inspiration for you?
Two people. Jim Wolfenshon, the former President of the World Bank. When he passed away a couple of years ago, I tweeted: A titan of development and a professional father to many of us has died. He once spontaneously wrote to junior me "I cannot tell you how proud I am of you and your team....I want you to know that you have my support...you are really the World Bank at our very best". That he knew about us, ten ranks below him in the hierarchy, and that we were fighting for a client country in serious trouble, just tells you what a real leader is about.
The second, and perhaps more defining person in my life, was my Mother. She was, by far, the best economist I have ever met, even though she did not finish high-school or went to college. In fact, she grew up in poverty in Argentina and had to go to work as a teenager to help her family. But what she lacked in formal education, she had in instincts. Her economics boiled down to five principles: never miss a day of work; all debts are bad; no expenditure is more important than your children's education; expect nothing good from the government; and keep your hands clean. Brilliant.
What is your favorite class you have ever taken and why?
Economics 101. It opened my eyes to the "why" of everything. I had gone to college on a scholarship to become an accountant, something my father had approved of---"You will always have a job". But one class of Economics 101 and I was hooked. Love at first sight. Now, telling my father that I was not going to be an accountant, but an economist, was not easy...
What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a career in public administration?
Visualize yourself in ten years. Do you still see yourself happy, doing something that makes a difference in someone else's life, solving problems for others, telling your kids that what you do will not make them rich but will make them proud? If so, stop thinking about it, and go for it. You are a born public servant.
What area of public policy interests you the most and why?
These days, I dedicate most of my teaching (Georgetown) and consulting to public finance. I help governments (and lenders!) manage their debts, their assets, and their risks. It is a hot topic, as emerging and developing economies are facing a wall of financial distress. Sovereign borrowing has become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Untangling this mess will take a decade or more, and many countries will live through the pain and chaos of default, with its massive social and economic consequences. Giving a hand to avoid all that is my professional priority.
What would you currently consider the most critical challenge for developing countries and why?
People ask me whether there is a blueprint or a model to guide successful economic development. There isn't. But there is one common feature among the countries that have done well: they have managed to balance economic discipline with social solidarity, efficiency with equity, markets with people. That balance seems to assure political and policy stability; a national consensus is formed around a vision that is beyond dispute. Whether the left or the right comes to power matters no more. This has been as true for super-developed Norway as for emerging Uruguay. Getting to that consensual vision is, in my opinion, the most difficult challenge because we don't really know how to do it. Our knowledge is about technical objectives like balanced budgets, low inflation, sustainable debt, open trade, or smart regulation.
If you could have dinner with someone, who would that be and why?
The Pope. He leads about a billion people with deep, honest moral conviction. But, respectfully, his economics is not good. His advisors seem to brief him more on ideology than science. In a sense, dining with him would be like dining with my late father: both were sons of Piamontese farmers that migrated to Argentina escaping famine. In fact, they both settled in the same neighborhood at the same time. Both were marked by social marginalization and grew up to be unwavering supporters of General Peron. And, like good Peronists, they believe they can wish away the unforgiving rigor of markets. Convincing them that they cannot, and that there are better ways to deal with the problem, would be my ultimate professional achievement. After that, I would really retire.
What is your favorite cuisine?
Argentine, by far. Think of Italians cooking Spanish food with the best wheat, milk, and meat in the World. The beauty of technological delay and extensive agriculture---no hormones, no chemicals, no radiation, no freezing. Bread, pasta, pizza, ice-cream, and, yes, steak have a totally different flavor, even a different personality. Add to that that the country is the homeland of Malbec, and you are at the gates of paradise.
What is your favorite hobby or activity that you enjoy doing in your free time?
Between consulting and teaching, I have failed at retirement. But I still make time for fishing, weightlifting and, believe or not, playing soccer.
What was your dream job as a child?
Like every child in my neighborhood back in Buenos Aires, I wanted to be a professional soccer player. And I tried! But the locals were (and are) so good that my then-girlfriend-now-wife quickly talked me out of it and into studying. She was right.
Currently an Independent Consultant to governments and international institutions, Marcelo Giugale is the former Director of the World Bank’s Department of Financial Advisory and Banking Services—the team of professionals who help governments in emerging and developing countries manage their assets, their debts, and their risks. Also a former Director of country, sector, and practice departments, his more than thirty years of experience span the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin-America, and Africa, where he led senior-level policy dialogue and over thirty billion dollars in lending and insurance operations across the development spectrum. An Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and a Fellow of the US National Academy of Public Administration, he has published on macroeconomic policy, finance, subnational fiscal rules, development economics, business, agriculture, and applied econometrics. Notably, he was the chief editor of collections of policy notes published for the presidential transitions in Mexico (2000), Colombia (2002), Ecuador (2003), Bolivia (2006) and Peru (2006). In 2017, he authored the second edition of “Economic Development: What Everyone Needs to Know”, a featured volume by Oxford University Press. His opinion editorials have appeared in the leading newspapers and blog-sites of the USA, Europe, Latin-America, and Africa. He received decorations from the governments of Bolivia and Peru, and taught at the American University in Cairo, The London School of Economics, and the Universidad Católica Argentina. A citizen of Argentina, Italy and the USA, he holds a PhD and a MSc in Economics from The London School of Economics, and a Summa-Cum-Laude BA in Economics from Universidad Católica Argentina. You can watch his TED talk (“Ending Poverty”), and follow him on Twitter at @Marcelo_WB