Our Words: The Herman Daly Farewell Speech

On January 14, 1994, Herman Daly, Senior Economist in the Environment Department of the World Bank resigned after six years of work at the institution. He invited a number of World Bank economists and the press to a farewell speech in which he prescribed that the Bank take “a few antacids and laxatives to cure the combination of managerial flatulence and organizational constipation giving rise to such a high-pressure internal environment” and to improve interactions with the external world he prescribed “new eyeglasses and a hearing aid.” We present the entire speech below…

After six years at the World Bank and having at 55 finally reached the age of both reason and early retirement, I am now returning to academia-to teaching, researching, writing-and chasing after grants. While I am happy about that, I also feel a sense of loss at leaving, especially because I think the Bank will become, and is already becoming, much more environmentally sensitive and literate. It is also, of all places that I have worked, the one where I have had the best colleagues. The person who more than anyone else has fought for the environment in the Bank for over fifteen years is Robert Goodland. Trying to help him, Salah E1 Serafy, and others, to “green the Bank’s economists” has been a high privilege and sometimes even fun. It is also unfinished business. The Vice Presidency for Environmentally Sustainable Development in its first year, under Ismail Serageldin’s leadership, has been the most encouraging step forward during my time here. When the critical areas of population and energy are brought under the domain of ESD, it will be even more encouraging.

I should confess that this is a farewell from someone who is not going very far away-only nine miles up the road to the University of Maryland, so I hope to keep contact with many colleagues and with the Bank. But, who can refuse an invitation to give a farewell lecture to (take a parting shot at) such a powerful institution-an institution whose role in the world is, for better or worse, becoming ever more important, and whose imminent fiftieth birthday invites the reassessment characteristic of mid-life? I willingly succumb to the temptation both to pontificate and to prescribe a few remedies for the Bank’s middle-aged infirmities.

My prescriptions will be of two kinds, internal and external. First, a few antacids and laxatives to cure the combination of managerial flatulence and organizational constipation giving rise to such a high-pressure internal environment. Second, to improve interactions with the external world, I will prescribe some new eyeglasses and a hearing aid. After age fifty these aids to the body become more necessary and should be accepted, or at least listened to, with as much grace as possible.

Internal Issues: The Workplace and Managerial Environment

Many excellent people work at the World Bank, and usually work very competently and very hard, probably too hard. But, top-down management, misguided by en unrealistic vision of development as the generalization of Northern over consumption to the rapidly multiplying masses of the South has led to many external failures, both economic and ecological. These external failures, due to faulty vision and hearing, will be considered later, but for now I just note that external failure also undermines internal morale. The unrealistic vision of development should be blamed at least as much on academic economic theorists as on World Bank practitioners.

…(read more).

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