Poor people must die first – so says an Economist

This is going to be a tough one for you guys to swallow. At the heart of it, is a chap called Lawrence Summers who’s currently the Director for the National Economic Counsel in the US. When he was president of the World bank, he wrote a memo which recommended dumping more toxic waste in developing countries because – get this – lives in poorer countries are worth less than those in developed countries.

Image Credit: Molas

Dumping Toxic Waste in Developing Countries - because rich people's lives are worth more?
Dumping Toxic Waste in Developing Countries - because rich people's lives are worth more?

The problem of where to dump toxic waste generated abroad has plagued planners in the west for a long time. The recent controversy regarding the Platinum II cruiseliner on Indian shores is evidence of this. Summer’s memo makes a very clear point by saying,

“The World Bank should be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]”

He gives three reasons. First, rich people in the west earn more money. Therefore if someone has to die, it makes economic sense for it to be the poor people. In his words:

“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.”

Second, poor countries like Africa are under polluted! To quote:

“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”.

His logic is that the pollution generated by the west must be spread over the globe instead of being restricted to the countries where it was created. In other words, he sees the good air quality in Africa as a haven for dumping the Industrialized world’s waste into.

And finally, he says that since people in poor countries anyway have a shorter life expectancy, dangerous chemicals will have less of an impact on them. He goes on to claim that they’ll be willing to trade clean air in exchange for money since they must value a clear environment less than rich people

Remember that these aren’t the words of some loony fringe economist, but the Chief economist of the World Bank in 1991 and who still holds a position of prominence in the Obama administration!

In my opinion, such statements can only come from economists who view everything including life in terms of money. Wait, that’s not true. Corporates whose only motive is profit also think the same way. When you start looking at the entire world using just one metric – money, you commit terrible atrocities because your sole aim is then to increase that metric to the expense of everything else. The whole world becomes a means to increase your money as much as possible. The lives of all living things, and the environment are fodder to be used.

When Summer’s memo was released, it created a terrible backlash leading him to claim that it wasn’t serious. But from reading his language in the original memo, I don’t believe that for one moment. I think he was dead serious. And for a brief moment, we the regular public caught a glimpse of the kind of people who rule our world today.

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8 thoughts on “Poor people must die first – so says an Economist”

  1. @Hari Batti
    I'm inclined to look more kindly on the Stern report because it

    a)Acknowledges global warming implicitly unlike many other government reports which state that the science is not clear – of course, this was Europe and not the US so not all that surprising.

    b)Advocates strong and immediate change – between 1-2% of the GDP of the developed nations annually. No other report goes that far.

    Could you point out the fine print that you refer to so I can read it myself?


  2. This is important to talk about. Underlying all economic analysis of “the cost of climate change” is a calculation that says poor people’s lives don’t count for much. This is true, by the way, if you read the fine print in the well cited report by Nicholas Sterns. It’s explicit. All life insurance, by the way does this. I’m not against economic analysis, but the assumptions on which our analysis rests need to be clear to all.


  3. random comment
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    u know, the first time I came here I thought this was a geeky tech blog..thankfully I kept coming back..:-) loved this post,since it was one of my thesis papers when I was doing my masters …


  4. @lostonthestreet
    Simple – I mainly write for websites or any other person who needs content written. I also specialize in optimizing sites so that they have a better chance of ranking well in Google for specific keywords.

    Anything specific you’d like to find out?


  5. so who then should die first?

    poor people are smelly, have no jobs, are basically useless organisms, only good for harvesting organs or meat (if it ever comes to that).

    people who choose to live in deplorable conditions (yes it is always choice, most of these poor people are just pathetic excuses for humans anyway) won’t mind toxic waste, they probably drink moonshine and smoke drugs all day anyway.


  6. How about the people that has dreams and are able to survive life and succeed if we are going to help them for a while?


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