Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Impeccable Logic of Lawrence Summers

Thanks to a post at Effect Measure, we now have an even better picture of just who Lawrence Summers is. In a 1991 memo, Summers, who was then Chief Economist at the World Bank, made a number of "politically incorrect" statements, as thus:

Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?
Lest anyone accuse me of jumping to conclusions, or of taking Mr. Summers' remarks out of context, I hasten to note that Summers does clarify his stance admirably:
I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
In a further display of this impeccable logic, Summers goes on to suggest that certain third-world countries are "under-polluted." That's a shocking state of affairs indeed.

He does make one very interesting and valid point, though:
The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is is 200 per thousand.
How true that is. Of course, in humanitarian terms, the last thing such a country needs is to serve as a dumping-ground for toxic waste. But according to the ineluctable dicates of corporate psychopathy, such countries are indeed ideal dumping-grounds: their generally high mortality rates, poor public-health infrastructure, and low life expectancy will combine to hide the long-term effects of newly introduced environmental toxins. (A real virtuoso could even use "evidence" from such countries to argue that such toxins are "obviously" safe for dumping in wealthier countries.)

Be sure to read the entire EM post. It ends with a truly magnificent denunciation of Summers by Brazil's former Secretary of Environment, upon which I couldn't possibly improve.

UPDATE: No sooner did I post this than I remembered that in some dark recess of my mind I already knew about this memo, and that I'd been infuriated by it when Clinton nominated Summers to run the Treasury Department. I really think I'm suffering from outrage fatigue...I'm finding it harder and harder to keep track of the things these maniacs say...


rorschach said...

I recall that "under-polluted" madness, but had forgotten that it was Summers who spouted that off...

And I can only presume he meant "prostate" cancer?

Phila said...

Yeah, that felicitous phrase was the tip-off for me, too. I thought, "That sounds familiar...but surely that's not a legitimate economic term?"
So I Googled it and there it was.

The man really is a psychopath.

Anonymous said...

Imagine that we auction the "right" to have garbage dumped in your country. Countries could bid by saying how much we would have to pay them to do it. Whoever bids the lowest amount "wins" the auction: gets paid and gets garbage dumped in the country. Who do you think will "win" the auction, US or, say, Sudan? My bet is on Sudan.

But is Sudan really worse off as a result of "winning" the auction? Cannot be, because it had the option of biding gazillions billions millions dollars and then it would never have "won" the action and nobody would have dumped garbage in their backyard. Did not take that chance, which suggests they like money more than how much it bothers them to have the garbage dumped in their country, hence they gain, they are better off, by having garbage dumped in their country.

The world as a whole and the Sudanese are better off as a result of the "action". You show me one who is worse off.

Phila said...

Cannot be, because it had the option of biding gazillions billions millions dollars and then it would never have "won" the action and nobody would have dumped garbage in their backyard.

What a wonderful example of free, totally uncoerced choice.