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World Bank: Conable's turn

PRESIDENT Reagan has made a sound choice in tapping former New York Republican Congressman Barber B. Conable to head the World Bank. A fiscal conservative known as a pragmatist, Mr. Conable seems the right person to lead the bank at a time when it is undergoing profound changes in its lending practices -- and its global role. The bank is charged with making loans to developing nations to help their economies grow. Under the long tenure of former World Bank president Robert S. McNamara back in the late 1960s and 1970s, the bank became a major force for global lending, funding scores of development projects in a number of nations. Moreover, Mr. McNamara, an industrialist and former Cabinet officer, was not reticent about using his position to give widespread prominence to what the bank perceived as disturbing world social trends, such as spiraling population growth. By contrast, his successor, A. W. Clausen, a highly respected banker who had been chairman of Bank of America, was a more low-keyed individual. Clausen, although supporting a number of lending reforms within the bank, such as the bank's increasing habit of linking loans to policy changes within developing nations to encourage structural changes -- has tended to stand back from the pell-mell of global politics. Mr. Clausen deserves credit for his careful managerial leadership of the bank.

The task now facing the global financial community is to balance a need for long-range structural changes in developing nations with indigenous local aspirations. Today's global economic challenges, including the impact of enormous third-world debt and falling oil prices, are as much political as they are financial. In providing development loans, international lending agencies need to be more sensitive to traditional practices within nations. In other words, to offer global ``banking with a heart.'' And that's where Mr. Conable comes in. As a congressman, Conable was quick to seek compromises to often difficult political and economic dilemmas.

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Conable brings many strong pluses with him. He is a close associate of Vice-President George Bush and, through Bush, Treasury Secretary James Baker, who is calling on the World Bank to be more of a player in extending necessary lending capital to developing nations.

Conable could also help persuade a wary Congress to increase outlays for the bank. That in itself, could he pull it off, would be no little accomplishment, given the mood of retrenchment now in Congress.

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