Alacevich, Michele

Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University
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History of development ideas, policies and institutions
Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University
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Last updated: January 31, 2023
Michele Alacevich, Associate Director for Research Activities at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University, specializes in the history of 20th century development institutions and ideas, and international history. Current interests include the history of development, the policies of postwar reconstruction in Southern Europe, and the history of social sciences in the 20th century, with a focus on the linkages between the history of ideas, economic and political history, and the history of economic thought. His book The Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years (Stanford University Press, 2009) has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and Arabic. His publications include articles in Journal of Global History, History of Political Economy, Review of Political Economy, Rivista di Storia Economica, and Journal of the History of Economic Thought. Before moving to Columbia University, Michele Alacevich was a research scholar at Harvard University (2010-2011), Columbia University (2009-2010), and the World Bank (2006-2008). He holds a Ph.D. in business history from the University of Milano, Italy (2006).

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Now showing 1 - 2 of 2
  • Publication
    The World Bank's Early Reflections on Development : A Development Institution or a Bank?
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2008-07) Alacevich, Michele
    Until the late 1960s, the World Bank presented itself as an institution devoted to making sound and directly productive project loans. Yet, during its very early years, some discussions developed inside the Bank regarding the possibility of issuing different types of loans, namely (i) loans aimed at tackling social issues ("social loans"), and (ii) loans aimed at providing foreign currency to address disequilibria in the balance of payments ("impact loans"). This paper brings together historical analysis and theories of organization development to study the housing issue as a case in point. The analysis reveals that the Bank was unwilling to lend for housing programs not because these were not sound - in fact, they were - but because they were geared toward achieving social welfare objectives and were not directly linked to productive investment projects, such as dams, power stations, and railroads. This early decision had a significant impact on the subsequent development of the Bank's view of policy-making: it locked the institution into a particular lending pattern, and deprived it of important intellectual resources. It was not until the late 1960s that the Bank began to take social issues into consideration, rather late compared with other multilateral institutions.
  • Publication
    The Political Economy of the World Bank : The Early Years
    (Stanford: Stanford University Press and the World Bank, 2009) Alacevich, Michele
    This book covers the early years of the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), commonly known as the World Bank when it first confronted the issue of development as a fundamental part of its mission. The book is mainly concerned with how the Bank interpreted its mission and, more specifically, how its mission was born: what events shaped it, what cultural and ideological background influenced it and what was the historical context in which it arose. So this book is a contribution to the study of the prehistory of development, understood in its social and economic context. In this respect, the study of the early years of the World Bank offers excellent context for observation for three reasons. First, during its history there is a clear separation between the growth phase and the phase of social objectives. Second, in the first years of activity already the Bank could hear murmurs of opposition. Finally, there was a sudden change in the mandate of the institution changed from supporting the reconstruction of Europe after the war, to help developing countries. The transition from one phase to another was a formative one and redefined the institution. The upshot of the foregoing was to set a fertile ground for exploring the signs of conflict between the different approaches to development. The first chapter deals with the historiography that underlies the writing. It refers to a wide literature using periods of transition or crisis in the history of the institution to understand its dynamics and mechanisms. Reducing its support for European reconstruction, the Bank focused on the development of countries. The internal tensions that arose and led to a complete break between the Bank and the director of the mission (the economist Lauchlin Currie) are very useful for understanding better the evolution of the institution. The third chapter explores the tensions between Currie and the Bank and particularly, between Currie and the economist Albert Hirschman, who the Bank replaced as envoy to Colombia. The final chapter focuses again on the International Bank and particularly in lending mechanisms for developing countries.