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Farewell

Kaushik Basu's picture
It has been four wonderful years. Hard work, engagement with the big wide world, and lots of love and warmth in the workplace. The only alarming fact is that the love and warmth seems to have increased after people learned that I was leaving.  

This helped me solve a long-standing mystery. In my school in Kolkata, we were very fond of Father Bouche, our teacher and a Jesuit priest. When he announced he was returning to Belgium we gave him a big farewell. Then, mysteriously, he returned to Kolkata the following year, taught for six months and left again. I now realize what happened. Farewells can be so much fun that Father Bouche, despite being a priest given to abstemious living, could not help indulging in the love and warmth of farewell twice.

The World Bank began for me with a meeting with President Kim at London’s airport hotel in August, 2012. Jim offered me the job of Chief Economist. The opportunity to engage with the world seemed exciting. My nine predecessors included some of the towering figures in economics. It did not take me long to say yes. I thank Jim for giving me the opportunity.

It has been four years of work, learning and, above all, fun. People have been, almost without exception, warm and helpful. My wife insists I suffer from “love delusion”—a proclivity to believe more people love me than actually do. Well, delusion or not, it has been four marvelous years.

It seems just the other day that I arrived here. The place was alien and strange. I used to play a mental game. When I got into a crowded elevator, I tried to guess who would get out on which floor. I used to get it all wrong. Of late, I find I am almost always right. By using data, such as the quantity of hair-gel, the kind of perfume one has used, the level of starch in the collar, I can guess the floor the person will exit. Starched collar, gelled hair, cuff links: 12th floor. Disheveled hair, crumpled clothes to match: Will get out on the 3rd floor. Researcher.

From the very first days, when I worked on developing the twin goals, to recent times, the Bank has been an enriching experience. From meetings with leaders and finance ministers in distant countries, to escaping from the official World Bank car to hop on to a local bus and chat with ordinary folks, the World Bank gave me the opportunity for a range of work and interaction that I have never experienced before. I will, for instance, always cherish memories of my meetings with the Chief Economists, where we discussed a breathtaking range of topics, and with the EDs who took so much interest in ideas that it was always a bracing experience.

I am looking forward to going back to the world of research and lecturing, but have no doubt in my mind that I am richer for this experience.

I had set myself many targets when I came to the Bank, from trying to make big improvements in our reports, to broadening the scope of analysis in the World Bank, by making room for psychology and politics. I have had some successes but as I went through the piles of books and papers sitting alone in my office last Sunday, I kept coming across folder after folder marked “To do.” It gives a sinking feeling when you add up the number of things you intended to do but did not; the letters you wanted to answer but did not; the many acts of kindness from people you never reciprocated. It brings to mind Robert Frost’s immortal lines:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Thank you; and welcome to Paul Romer.
 

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