Future World Bank president explains why Africa is 'vastly underpolluted'

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Obama’s nominee believes that “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable”

Thanks to Doug Henwood for this

So Obama’s going to nominate Larry Summers to be president of the World Bank. Recall this passage from 1991 memo, actually written by Lant Pritchett but signed by Summers when he was the Bank’s chief economist, on how “Africa is vastly under-polluted.” The last paragraph is important, and should not be overlooked in fighting these mofos.

3. “Dirty” industries

Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [less-developed countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurement of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. 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.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate [sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to got prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmospheric discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.


  • Summers claims that this was a sarcastic response to another draft memo on the environment circulating at the World Bank.

    I am inclined to believe him.

    If it was a memo about protecting the environment and raising living standards in the third world and it then proposed (in appropriate weasel words) dumping polluting industries in the third world – that would be a different story.

    These people are trained from birth to present the rape and destruction of the earth and its people in the best possible light.

  • Say anything to continue business as usual. That’s what it boils down to. Why do you think he got the job.

  • “Lawrence H. Summers is President Emeritus of Harvard University, former Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy, and in the past decade served in a series of senior public policy positions, including Director of the National Economic Council for the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2011 and Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, from 1999 to 2001. He is currently the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University.”


  • Systemic sanctioned deaths yields as a new business model for profitering – can we just stop seeing each other as the other. We are all only ONE RACE and what happens to one of us happens to all of US! Environmental racism is an ugly idiom of stupid people continually doing dumb and dumber acts. The day of reckoning for Larry Stupid Summers will be when he faces the consequences of his thoughts action and deeds. Whatever he sows, he will receive!

  • I’m having to read it again just in case I fell through a dimension rift and into looney land and didn’t know it.

    seriously, this is the sort of thinking that has been working quietly and malignantly in the background of our lives for generations. You hardly ever get to see clear evidence of it though do you?
    Not like what is in that article.

  • I’m still picking my jaw up from the ground! I can’t believe anyone would think like this, let alone put it in writing! Surely someone who thought like this, even though it was written a while back, should never be allowed to hold a position of such responsibility? I’m deeply shocked by reading this.

  • I’d ask incredulously if this clown is for real, but I know the answer :'(

    Could make a good stand up comedy skit.