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Series: 1944-2020, 76 years of interference from the World Bank and the IMF (Part 23)
The World Bank’s accounts
by Eric Toussaint
7 September 2020

In 2020, the World Bank (WB) and the IMF are 76 years old. These two international financial institutions (IFI), founded in 1944, are dominated by the USA and a few allied major powers who work to generalize policies that run counter the interests of the world’s populations.

The WB and the IMF have systematically made loans to States as a means of influencing their policies. Foreign indebtedness has been and continues to be used as an instrument for subordinating the borrowers. Since their creation, the IMF and the WB have violated international pacts on human rights and have no qualms about supporting dictatorships.

A new form of decolonization is urgently required to get out of the predicament in which the IFI and their main shareholders have entrapped the world in general. New international institutions must be established. This new series of articles by Éric Toussaint retraces the development of the World Bank and the IMF since they were founded in 1944. The articles are taken from the book The World Bank: a never-ending coup d’état. The hidden agenda of the Washington Consensus, Mumbai: Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, 2007, or The World Bank : A critical Primer Pluto, 2007.

Since the World Bank came into existence in 1946, each year without exception, it has produced positive net results from its activities. In 1963, the World Bank was faced with such huge profits that the new president, George Woods, who only a short time before had been President of the First Boston Bank, proposed that the Bank’s Managing Committee should distribute dividends to its shareholders like any self-respecting bank [1] The idea was abandoned as the managers felt that distributing dividends would give indebted developing countries a poor impression of the Bank. It was decided to transfer the profits to the Bank’s reserves. In 2005, the Bank’s total reserves came to 38.5 billion dollars.

Since 1985, the revenues [2] of the Bank’s main branch, the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), has exceeded a billion dollars every year. Exceptional results were registered for 1992 (1709 million dollars of revenue), in 2000 (1991 million) and above all for 2003 (3021 million).

Graph 1 shows the evolution of operations revenue from 1981 to 2005:

Source: World Bank, Global Development Finance, 2005

How does the World Bank make its profits?

The IBRD makes its profits through repayments received from indebted countries, mainly from a few big middle-income countries [3]. Indeed, the poorest countries cannot afford to borrow from the IBRD – they borrow from the IDA (International Development Agency).

The IBRD makes its profits on the difference between what the capital it borrows on the financial markets costs it, on the one hand, and what the developing countries repay it, (amortization of borrowed capital + interest) on the other. Even then, the IBRD would have to ensure that the developing countries do actually repay it, and so it does: the IBRD manages to get repaid regularly. Of course there are a few exceptions and some countries are bad payers – as was the case of Mobutu’s Zaire, for example.

The following table will give an idea of how seriously developing countries take their obligation to repay the IBRD. The developing countries can be seen to repay far more than the IBRD lends them. Developing countries’ net transfer on debt has been negative since 1987. It is also apparent that despite the enormous amounts repaid, the total debt still owed to the IBRD has greatly increased.

Evolution of debt owed to the IBRD by all DC from 1970 to 2004
in millions of dollars
Year Stock total Amounts lent Amounts repaid Net transfer
1970 4.377 672 491 181
1971 4.892 796 559 237
1972 5.517 928 630 298
1973 6.146 969 757 213
1974 7.136 1.338 883 456
1975 8.500 1.817 987 830
1976 9.984 1.937 1.151 786
1977 11.784 2.373 1.434 939
1978 13.812 2.661 1.780 881
1979 16.520 3.452 2.161 1.291
1980 20.432 4.224 2.666 1.558
1981 24.356 5.201 2.963 2.239
1982 28.570 5.828 3.611 2.217
1983 33.706 7.104 4.376 2.728
1984 33.426 7.917 5.217 2.700
1985 46.612 7.915 6.077 1.838
1986 63.411 9.768 8.881 887
1987 83.372 10.680 11.447 -767
1988 79.871 11.591 14.393 -2.801
1989 80.981 10.564 13.302 -2.738
1990 92.314 13.438 14.807 -1.369
1991 97.136 11.924 16.686 -4.762
1992 95.283 10.218 17.455 -7.237
1993 100.156 12.884 17.724 -4.840
1994 107.713 11.299 19.113 -7.814
1995 111.691 13.094 19.641 -6.548
1996 105.308 13.148 19.276 -6.128
1997 101.522 14.499 17.334 -2.835
1998 108.455 14.376 17.099 -2.723
1999 111.329 14.082 17.101 -3.019
2000 112.145 13.430 17.510 -4.079
2001 112.530 12.305 17.275 -4.970
2002 111.303 10.288 22.414 -12.126
2003 109.036 11.411 22.761 -11.350
2004 104.526 8.298 18.381 -10.084

Source: World Bank, Global Development Finance, 2005

The next graph shows the evolution of stock and net transfer on debt.

Source : World Bank, Global Development Finance, 2005
Comparison between debt stock owed to IBRD and net transfers since 1970 and 2004
Left-hand scale: net transfer on debt owed to the IBRD by all the developing countries (in billion dollars)
Right-hand scale: Evolution of total debt owed to the IBRD by all the developing countries between 1970 and 2004 (in billion dollars)

The World Bank claims that the profits it makes from the IBRD are not enough to enable it to balance its accounts, because of a deficit in the IDA’s, which makes low-interest loans to the poorest countries. The following graph shows that if you add together IBRD and IDA loans, on the one hand, and subtract the total of all repayments made by all the developing countries (including the poorest) to the IBRD and IDA, the Bank has been making a comfortable profit since 1990. So, from 1991 to 1996, net transfer has been systematically negative. As it has since 2000.

Total debt transfers LT (World Bank) Total debt stock LT (World Bank)

Source: World Bank, Global Development Finance, 2005
Left-hand scale: net transfer on debt owed to the WB (IBRD +IDA) by all the developing countries (in billion dollars)
Right-hand scale: Evolution of total debt owed to the WB (IBRD + IDA) by all the developing countries between 1970 and 2004 (in billion dollars)

From 1984, the World Bank decided to diversify where it placed its profits. Other than increasing its reserves, it used it in homeopathic doses for certain UN programmes. Thus in April 1984, the World Bank donated two million dollars to the World Food Programme. This is referred to in the minutes of the World Bank’s Managing Committee meeting as “a good and astute gesture” [4].

Later, from 1985, the World Bank allocated part of its profits to special funds, usually trust funds, for limited purposes. These could be anything from the Bank’s contribution to reducing poor countries’ debt to aid for certain countries affected by the tsunami in December 2004, or donations to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the fifth branch of the World Bank [5].

Generally, this use of the funds is criticized by the middle-income countries since it is through them that the World Bank makes its profits. These countries denounce the fact that the rich countries use part of the profits made on their backs for noble gestures towards the poorest countries. They would prefer the Bank to charge them lower interest rates.

Note that the Bank is very active on the derivatives market, which feeds international speculation. In 2004, the Bank registered a shortfall of 4 billion dollars due to operations on derivatives in currency exchange. Although its usual activities had generated profits comparable to those made in previous years, this made a temporary impact on its net revenue [6]. However all this is leading us to another of the World Bank’s activities, which, however questionable, is beyond the scope of this chapter.

Footnotes :

[1Kapur, Devesh, Lewis, John P., Webb, Richard. 1997. The World Bank, Its First Half Century, Volume 1: History, p. 177

[2From here on in the text, the word “revenue” will be used to avoid repeating “net operations revenue” throughout.

[3{{}}Middle-income countries are those with a gross domestic income of between 766 and 9385 dollars per inhabitant in 2003. They borrow from the Bank at rates close to market rates.

[4Minutes of Managing Committee meeting, April 9, 1984, cited by Kapur, Devesh, Lewis, John P., Webb, Richard. 1997. The World Bank, Its First Half Century, Volume 1: History, p. 341

[5Complete list of these Funds : Environment Trust Fund, Special Facility to Sub-Saharian Africa, Technical Assistance Trust Fund for the Union of Soviet, Trust Fund for Gaza and West Bank, Trust Fund for East Timor, Emergency Assistance for Rwanda, Debt Reduction Facility for IDA-countries only, Trust Fund for Bosnia and Herzegovina, HIPC Debt Initiative Trust Fund, Capacity Building in Africa, Trust Fund for Kosovo, Trust Fund for Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, Low-Income Countries Under Stress Implementation Trust Fund, Trust Fund for Liberia, Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Aceh and North Sumatra, Trust Fund for Tsunami Disaster Recovery in India.

[6See World Bank, Annual Report 2005, Washington DC, vol. 2, p. 3ff.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.