Larry, You Cynical Bastard

This quote is old, but still….

Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of 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 forgone 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 costs. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. . . 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 prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under-five mortality is 200 per thousand. . .

–Lawrence Summers, then Chief Economist of the World Bank, in The Economist, 8 February 1992 (quoted in Michael Löwy, “What is Ecosocialism?” Capitalism Nature Socialism 16:2 [June 2005], 22). Summers is currently head of the White House National Economic Council.



  1. 1
    qualifiedcondition Says:

    This reminds me of Descartes theory about how it’s easier to mug retarded kids in wheelchairs than football linebackers. Or was that Kierkegaard?

  2. 2
    Lazlo Says:

    I am ashamed to admit I was like 2/3 through this quote before I realized it wasn’t Larry David you were quoting.

  3. 3
    John Says:

    That’s pretty entertaining.

    “the economic logic of dumping toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable”…..

  4. 4
    elcaballo Says:

    QC: I believe it was Augustine, who also said that God sits around making switches to hit people who ask too many questions.

    Lazlo: A bit technical and unracist for LD. Though I suppose it could have been one of his blog posts:

    John: I was also pleased with “their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low.” I understand the logic here, but who comes up with this stuff?!

  5. 5
    6th Sense Says:

    Chilling. How much possibility that this guy has “rehabilitated” or “awakened” in the 17 years since that comment was made…?

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