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Before saying a word at a press conference in Washington this year, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim held up a piece of paper on which he had scrawled a number: 2030.

The finance ministers and central bankers who set the World Bank’s agenda had just signed off on his request to set a deadline – 17 years from now, in 2030 – for the elimination of extreme poverty, defined loosely as subsistence on less than $1.25 (U.S.) a day.

It was an audacious statement for a new leader who had kept a relatively low profile since replacing fellow American Robert Zoellick...

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