• Larry Summers as World Bank President?

    world-bank

    Apparently, Larry Summers is considered by the Obama administration to take over as World Bank President later this year.

    I must be naïve, but I thought the required skills for the job would somehow be a combination of deep knowledge of development issues, political skills, and leadership. Is this telling us that such a person simply does not exist?

    Well, actually upon investigation, M. Summers appears to have some background in tackling development issues, from its time as World Bank chief economist… Time to read again some classic writing by the great man (this is a memo of the time):

    DATE: December 12, 1991
    TO: Distribution
    FR: Lawrence H. Summers
    Subject: GEP
    ‘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 measurements 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 though 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. 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 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. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere 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.

    We could just laugh at it, but it’s exactly the type of thing that cheaply discredits our whole profession, which is currently in great need of a bit more sanity. And I guess Abidjan’s inhabitants that were exposed to the Probo Koala’s toxic waste dump will appreciate!

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