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Barber Conable

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Barber Conable
President of the World Bank Group
In office
July 1, 1986 – August 31, 1991
Preceded byTom Clausen
Succeeded byLewis Preston
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1985
Preceded byHarold Ostertag
Succeeded byFred Eckert
Constituency37th district (1965–1973)
35th district (1973–1983)
30th district (1983–1985)
Member of the New York Senate
from the 53rd district
In office
January 1, 1963 – December 31, 1964
Preceded byAustin Erwin
Succeeded byKenneth Willard
Personal details
Born(1922-11-02)November 2, 1922
Warsaw, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 30, 2003(2003-11-30) (aged 81)
Sarasota, Florida, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseCharlotte Williams
EducationCornell University (BA, LLB)

Barber Benjamin Conable Jr. (November 2, 1922 – November 30, 2003) was a U.S. Congressman from New York and former President of the World Bank Group.



Conable was born in Warsaw, New York on November 2, 1922. Conable was an Eagle Scout and received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated from Cornell University in 1942, where he was president of the Quill and Dagger society and a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He then enlisted in the Marines and was sent to the Pacific front in World War II, where he learned to speak Japanese and fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima. After the war, he received his law degree from Cornell University Law School in 1948, where he lived at the Cornell Branch of the Telluride Association, having been admitted to the House as a law student, after an unsuccessful attempt as an undergraduate.[1] He later re-enlisted and fought in the Korean War.

In 1952, Conable married Charlotte Williams, his wife until his death. He died from a staphylococcus infection in 2003, at his winter home in Sarasota, Florida.

Legislative career


In 1962, Conable was elected as a Republican to the New York State Senate. After only one term, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964 from a Rochester-based district. He was reelected nine more times. He was known on both sides of the aisle for his honesty and integrity, at one point being voted by his colleagues the "most respected" member of Congress; he refused to accept personal contributions larger than $50. As a longtime ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee,[2]: 205  one of his signal legislative achievements was a provision in the U.S. tax code that made so-called 401(k) and 403(b) defined-contribution retirement plans possible, and contributions to those plans by both employers and employees tax-deferred, under federal tax law.

Barber Conable on April 5, 1973

A long-time ally of Richard Nixon, Conable broke with him in disgust after the revelations of the Watergate scandal. When the White House released a tape of Nixon instructing his Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman to obstruct the FBI investigation, Conable said it was a "smoking gun", a phrase which quickly entered the political folklore.

In 1980, Conable appeared in Milton Friedman's PBS documentary Free to Choose.[3]

Conable retired from the House in 1984.

President of the World Bank


From 1986 until August 31, 1991, Conable was president of the World Bank.[2]: 204  His experience as a legislator proved crucial as he persuaded his former colleagues to almost double Congress's appropriations for the bank.

After the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, Conable opposed elements of the George H.W. Bush administration and Congress which sought to take a more punitive stance toward China.[2]: 205  In Conable's view, those elements were motivated by the desire to improve their position in the 1992 by being overly harsh on China.[2]: 205  Conable's view was that imposing excessive punishment was ill-advised at a time when Deng Xiaoping was struggling with domestic opponents over whether to continue economic reform.[2]: 205  Conable successfully encouraged the World Bank Board of Governors to take an expansive view of humanitarian loans to China, including with regard to environmental loans because of the intrinsic merit of those investments.[2]: 205  When asked by academic David M. Lampton what Conable was most proud of in his World Bank interaction with China, Conable answered, "We planted a billion trees in China."[2]: 205 

Literature by and about Conable

  • Window on Congress: A Congressional Biography of Barber B. Conable Jr., James S. Fleming, Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 2004, ISBN 1-58046-128-X.
  • The Conable Years at the World Bank: Major Policy Addresses of Barber B. Conable, 1986–91, Barber B. Conable Jr., Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1991, ISBN 0-8213-1901-9.
  • Congress and The Income Tax, Barber B. Conable Jr. and Arthur L. Singleton, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989, ISBN 0-8061-2195-5.
  • Controlling the Cost of Social Security: Held on June 25, 1981, and Sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Barber B. Conable Jr., John Charles, et al., Washington, D.C.: The Institute, 1981, ISBN 0-8447-2225-1.
  • Foreign Assistance in a Time of Constraints, Barber B. Conable Jr., Richard S. Belous, S. Dahlia Stern, and Nita Christine Kent, eds., Washington, D.C.: National Planning Association, 1995, ISBN 0-89068-132-5.
  • Papers at Cornell University.


  1. ^ Fleming, James S (2004). Window on Congress: A Congressional Biography of Barber B. Conable Jr. University of Rochester Press. pp. 34–36. ISBN 9781580461283.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Lampton, David M. (2024). Living U.S.-China Relations: From Cold War to Cold War. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-5381-8725-8.
  3. ^ Free to Choose on YouTube (Conable's segment begins at approximately 37:20)
New York State Senate
Preceded by Member of the New York Senate
from the 53rd district

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 37th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 35th congressional district

Constituency abolished
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 30th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Chair of the House Republican Policy Committee
7 December 1973– 3 January 1977
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by President of the World Bank Group
Succeeded by