World Bank’s New Chief Economist Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg Talks Exclusively to TNH

Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg. (Photo by Michael Marsland, Yale University, courtesy of Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg)

WASHINGTON – The road to Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg getting from a student in Greece to the second woman – and first Greek – to become the World Bank’s Chief Economist depended on a typewritten letter.

While an undergraduate in Germany, Koujianou Goldberg, 55, now the Elihu Professor of Economics at Yale, applied for an internship at the bank, in the days when there was no email and got some career-changing advice.

“Some very nice person actually replied to my letter … and wrote that they would not even consider my application for an internship if I were not enrolled in a doctoral program. So at that point I decided that I needed to get a doctoral degree,” she told The National Herald.

“The U.S. was famous for its postgraduate education in Economics, so I applied to several U.S. institutions, and decided to go to Stanford in the end,” she said.

That led to her writing and co-writing papers on an array of economic topics, including intellectual property rights, the global market, multi-product firms in India, and local-currency price stability, the kind of arcane topics that make eyes roll outside of her field, but open them in hers and get notice.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, in announcing the appointment, said, “I’m thrilled that Penny Goldberg will bring her vast academic experience, intellectual rigor, and boundless curiosity to the World Bank Group,” at the institution which provides loans to countries of the world for capital projects, especially those still developing economies.

“Penny has spent her career examining many of the most complex issues that affect developing countries, and she will help answer the most important – and difficult – questions of our time: how to help developing countries prepare for the economy of the future, and how to ensure equality of opportunity everywhere in the world,” he said.

Goldberg, a Greek and US national, brings an impressive track record as a leading applied microeconomist, widely cited for her research on developing countries—including the effects of trade on inequality and firm productivity, and profits and innovation.

She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

She won the 2003 Bodossaki Prize in Social Sciences, which is awarded to distinguished scholars of Greek nationality or descent younger than 45 at the time, Yale said.

She was born in Athens in 1963, studied in Germany and used a scholarship from the Onassis Foundation to get to that treasured doctoral path at Stanford.

She went to the German High School of Athens and after getting a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service passed up the University of Athens to study in Germany, which opened the door to the US.

Her experience in studying economies around the world led her to give some advice to her homeland, suffering through a now eight-year long austerity crisis that forced successive governments to seek what turned into 326 billion euros ($391.11) to prop up an economy nearly brought down by generations of wild overspending and runaway patronage.

“Tourism and investment are two obvious ways. But Greeks abroad can also provide accurate information about Greece and help rectify misconceptions about the situation in Greece,” she told TNH.

She said American students are interested in the Greek crisis. “American students (and Americans in general) have much more empathy for the Greeks than many Europeans, partly because the U.S. itself has gone through a severe crisis starting in 2008,” she said.