Truman Packard: A thought leader on social insurance

By Eliza Villarino 12 October 2011

Truman Packard, lead economist at the World Bank. Photo by: personal collection

When it comes to social insurance, few can match the expertise of World Bank lead economist Truman Packard. His analyses have generated debate and redefined perspectives on the pension systems in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America.

Packard is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London. He and his peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked Packard about his leadership and vision for development cooperation in the years to come. Here’s what he said:

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career at the World Bank?

Making careful use of survey and field experiments to measure household risk preferences, savings and insurance behavior in Chile and Peru, I was able to present evidence that challenged a growing orthodoxy about old-age income security and the impact of pension reforms.

Up until this research was published, there was very little political space for people to question the wisdom of mandating private savings for old age. This was particularly the case in Chile, but also in Peru and in other Latin American countries that privatized a portion of their social insurance systems.

By questioning this policy course in a series of World Bank-financed papers and publications, leaders in Chile and elsewhere were given greater confidence to stand up to powerful financial sector interests, and to point out the limitations of pension privatization, in order to push for reforms that extended basic coverage of social insurance to a larger share of the population.

What advice would you give colleagues who are eager to see their research spark reform?

Too often great ideas founder on the words “that’s very risky”. It’s critically important to take risks. Development is a difficult, messy and risky process. Research that contributes to development is just as difficult, messy and risky. If it weren’t, there would be far more answers to the questions that confound policy makers and those who advise them. Risks need to be embraced, since the alternative is to be paralyzed by them.

As an economist, which global development challenges do you find the most fascinating and challenging?

As an economist, I find the transformation of people from mere “economic agents” into “citizen stake-holders” in our models fascinating and full of profound implications. Without a sense of citizenship and civic responsibility, a country full of fully informed, profit-maximizers will run aground. A strong sense of citizenship and civic responsibility probably even trumps getting the perfect policies in place. Behavioral economics is making inroads that will lead us to better development. It’s a growing “tool kit” we should seek to apply to development questions more urgently.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London.

About the author

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Eliza Villarino

Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.


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