As a candidate in this year's unusually public race for the World Bank presidency, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala seemingly had it all: an MIT education, high-level experience with both the bank and the Nigerian government, the potential to be the first woman and first person of color to run the institution, and the support of everyone from the African Union to the Financial Times. She just didn't have the one thing that really mattered: a U.S. passport.
But though she may have missed out on her chance to run the bank -- American Jim Yong Kim got the post -- Okonjo-Iweala is arguably as influential in her role as the powerful finance minister of Africa's most populous country and one of its fastest-growing economies. In a previous stint in the position, she successfully negotiated to wipe out millions of dollars of international debt, and since reassuming the post last year she has cut spending and helped establish a sovereign wealth fund to manage Nigeria's oil riches. Her driving idea: African countries can't hope to develop economically until they get their institutions in order.
It hasn't always been easy. Although she enjoys a potent mandate from President Goodluck Jonathan, Okonjo-Iweala has seen her reform efforts consistently meet opposition from the "godfathers" -- the powerful officials who benefit from the oil wealth in Nigeria's notoriously corrupt political system. Her efforts to end a popular but economically disastrous fuel subsidy have also so far been slow going. "It has not been easy, and the struggle is still ongoing," she told Reuters this year. "You make progress; then you get courage to make more." If she can succeed in helping one of Africa's most pivotal countries overcome the infamous oil curse, it might have a much more lasting impact than anything she could have accomplished back in Washington.
You might call Martin Feldstein, a former head of the National Bureau of Economic Research and chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, the original euroskeptic. "If a single currency is accepted," the longtime Harvard University economist wrote back in 1992, "national governments might soon have to decide whether to accept the greater volatility of employment and incomes that comes from abandoning an independent monetary policy and flexible exchange rate, or accept instead the loss of national sovereignty over taxes and spending." (Translation: The euro is doomed.) He doubled down on his argument five years later in Foreign Affairs, warning of the "danger of a treaty or constitution that has no exits" and the "adverse economic effects of a single currency on unemployment and inflation."
With the seemingly successful introduction of the euro in 1999, Feldstein was in a distinct minority. He stuck to his guns, however, even suggesting in 2008 -- a month before Slovakia joined the euro (ironically, to seek relief from the global financial panic) -- that a eurozone breakup could be "a real possibility." Now, amid the very real talk of just such a breakup, Feldstein has turned to critiquing European leaders' responses to the meltdown. Some of his predictions -- Greece defaulting and exiting the eurozone, for example -- have yet to come true. Feldstein can point to his prescience, however, noting that his early warnings "were pretty much on target, even though they were written 20 years ago."