World Bank

Conor Cradden    30 April 2018

I’ve just read the April 20th draft of the 2019 World Development Report on The Changing Nature of Work. Duncan Green of Oxfam has already given a useful overall assessment of an earlier draft that you can read here. Duncan picks up in particular on the report’s absolute neglect of questions of power and its rather magical thinking about what might be possible in terms of the creation of social safety nets. An even more critical analysis is posted here by the ITUC’s Peter Bakvis, a longtime World Bank watcher. Peter doesn’t mince his words on the topic of the report’s attitude to labour regulation, but I think he’s still being too diplomatic.

I’ve already taken issue with the Bank’s overall approach based on a look at the concept note that was released in February. Among the other questions I raised in that piece was why the bank has chosen to focus on work and employment in 2019. They know perfectly well that next year is the International Labour Organization’s 100th anniversary and that it will be producing a major report on the future of work. Given that the raison d’être of the ILO is to agree international law on labour and employment, producing a report whose main aim is to attack labour regulation adds insult to injury. What’s even more insulting is that the argument in the report is so breathtakingly bad. The World Bank has a poor record when it comes to work and employment, but this is a new low. Having produced a report that is intellectually dishonest where it is not simply incompetent, the authors have managed the extraordinary feat of rolling their tanks onto the ILO’s lawn only to fire off a series of squibs that are not so much damp as soaking wet.

It’s hard to get into the detail of what the authors do wrong without very quickly running into the thousands of words, so this sort of analysis is not well-suited to a social media format. The short version below is extremely compressed and doesn’t give examples of how the authors do what they do. This is kind of important—a lot of what I want to highlight is the inherent dishonesty of the method—so please take a look at the long version if you can.


The World Bank has just released a ‘concept note’ for its 2019 World Development Report (WDR), which is going to be about ‘The Changing Nature of Work’. The WDR is the Bank’s flagship research and policy publication. Every year it chooses some development-related topic and produces what’s intended to be a headline-grabbing report on it. This has been going on since 1978. Topics have included everything from conflict to climate change to education to finance. Work is one of the few subjects to have been a theme of the WDR more than once. Unfortunately, it’s also the subject about which the Bank is most frequently on the wrong side of the argument.


World Bank President Jim Kim