“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”–Immanuel Kant

President Obama’s choice to be the next President of the World Bank is Dartmouth President Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Dr Kim is a physician who is fond of quoting his predecessor at Dartmouth John Sloan Dickey: “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” No crooked timber here, rather the naked utopianism that has, and continues to lead the world, in the pursuit of the ideal at the expense of the good.

Dr Kim, who appears sincerely devoted to improving the world, has spent more time preparing himself to meet this goal than he has actively engaged in it. His biography is here. A colleague said this about Kim and his nomination:

“Jim Yong Kim is an inspired nomination for the presidency of the World Bank… Having had the good fortune to train with Jim at Harvard, and to see him work in settings from inner-city Boston to the slums of Peru, from Haiti to Rwanda to the prisons of Siberia, I know that for three decades Jim has committed himself to breaking the cycle of poverty and disease.”

His bio sketch says:  “Kim has been mentoring young people since his first teaching experience more than 20 years ago at Harvard University. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in anthropology, social analysis, social medicine, and global health. Before assuming the Dartmouth presidency, President Kim held professorships at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He also served as chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and director of the François Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health.”

If you’re only 52 years old have trained as a physician, have a PhD, worked in inner-city Boston, the slums of Peru, Haiti, Rwanda, the prisons of Siberia, and have held numerous important academic positions – you can’t have stayed at anything for very long. No matter how successful Dr Kim has been in these world wide ventures, his most successful accomplishment would appear to be his own career which has been a series of ascending accomplishments each more dazzling than the former.

How Dr Kim thinks we can make better human beings is puzzling. He must believe that basic human nature is malleable – that we are the way we are because events which control our development are subject to interventions which will make us better, ie, a Dartmouth education. I suspect that he is an ardent adherent to the “Blank Slate” (the mind has no innate traits) theory of human nature. If human nature is to a large part embedded as a cerebral script, it is very hard to make better human beings unless you’re ready to wait for evolution to build the new human nature. Of course there’s no guarantee that evolution will improve our disposition.

Making the world better is a noble goal; but it’s a marathon not a sprint and there’s no surety that if you enter the race you’ll get a medal. It’s also an occupation that rewards the ant hill approach far more than the opposite tack – let’s do it in a hurry with direction from the top by Harvard grads who pop in and out every so often.

Dr Kim has no background in economics which probably will be a plus when he gets to the World Bank. If he serves the whole 5 year term as the bank’s president, it may be the longest span he’s spent at any task. I wish him luck.