The World Bank named Harvard Kennedy School professor Carmen M. Reinhart its new chief economist Wednesday amid predictions of a prolonged global recession.
Reinhart, whose appointment will take effect June 15, is the World Bank’s third chief economist in three years. Yale economist Pinelopi “Penny” K. Goldberg left the Bank in March after succeeding Paul M. Romer, who resigned in 2018.
Reinhart will also serve as the first Latinx person to hold the position.
“I was born in Cuba and came as a refugee to the United States when I was 10 years old,” she said in an interview with The Crimson. “That kind of experience colors everything in your life, so perhaps in that regard, I've been exposed to the kinds of uncertainty and risk that a lot of people have not experienced.”
At the Kennedy School, Reinhart teaches a course that focuses on financial crises. She will take a two-year leave from Harvard to tackle her new post at the Bank.
In the 1980s, Reinhart served as Senior Policy Advisor and Deputy Director at the International Monetary Fund and chief economist of the investment bank Bear Stearns. She has also served on advisory panels for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Congressional Budget Office.
Reinhart said she hopes her broad range of experiences will help her at the World Bank.
“A lot of my work has been dealing with currency crises, banking crises, debt crises, economic crashes. Every single one of those is present in this [COVID-19] crisis, which has a superarching health crisis,” Reinhart said. “Having that is a broad range of experiences that I hope will be useful in helping me do my job at the Bank.”
Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said in an interview that Reinhart is one of the world’s leading experts on international financial issues.
“Even when times are good, that is such an important area of expertise that she has been sharing with me and faculty colleagues and all of her students,” Elmendorf said. “But of course it’s a particularly important expertise in bad times.”
As the World Bank’s chief economist, Reinhart will be in charge of guiding the Bank’s intellectual leadership and shaping the economic research agenda of the institution. Amid a global recession, Reinhart says her main job will be “putting out fires.”
“The first priority is for countries to be able to respond to the needs arising from a health emergency,” Reinhart said.
She emphasized that even though the pandemic has prompted a recession, it remains primarily a health crisis.
“The biggest concern with resuming activity, unless it is done with all the suggested precautions is the fear of a second wave,” she said. “As long as you know that the COVID is out there circulating, you know, restoration of normality is not in the cards.”
Elmendorf said Reinhart’s experience at the Kennedy School will likely influence her time at the World Bank.
“Carmen’s global expertise has made her very interesting for her students, but also their questions for her, and their comments in response to things she says in class, have been informative for her, I’m sure,” Elmendorf said.
“It’s very natural for the World Bank to want her to come and help save the world now, but we will miss her being around campus over the next few years,” he added.
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.