The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 447–476 | Cite as

Political ideology, quality at entry and the success of economic reform programs

  • Lodewijk SmetsEmail author
  • Stephen Knack
  • Nadia Molenaers


This study investigates how government ideology matters for the success of World Bank economic policy loans, which typically support market-liberalizing reforms. A simple model predicts that World Bank staff will invest more effort in designing an economic policy loan when faced with a left-wing government. Empirically, estimates from a Heckman selection model show that the quality at entry of an economic policy loan is significantly higher for governments with a left-wing party orientation. This result is robust to changes in the sample, alternative measures of ideology, different estimation techniques and the inclusion of additional control variables. Next, robust findings from estimating a recursive triangular system of equations indicate that leftist governments comply more fully with loan agreements. Results also suggest that World Bank resources are more productive—in terms of reform success—in the design of policy operations than in their supervision. Anecdotal evidence from several country cases is consistent with the finding that left-wing governments receive higher quality loans.


Development policy lending World Bank Political ideology Heckman selection model Triangular system of equations 

JEL Classification

C24 C30 O16 O19 



We would like to thank the DPL team task leaders for making time available for the interviews, Peter Moll, Adam Wagstaff and Bruno De Borger for valuable comments, the editor of this journal and two anonymous referees for useful comments and suggestions, Vincenzo Verardi for helpful conversations, Christian Bjørnskov for sharing his data and Tim De Vaan and René Vandendries for providing insight in the IEG ratings. The authors are solely responsible for any remaining errors. Lodewijk Smets is also indebted to the Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB) for providing a research grant.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lodewijk Smets
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stephen Knack
    • 2
  • Nadia Molenaers
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Development Policy and ManagementUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpenBelgium
  2. 2.World BankWashingtonUSA

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