In 1991, Lawrence Summers ” then the World Bank’s chief economist and later Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary ” wrote a memo suggesting that the bank should encourage the world’s dirty industries to move to developing countries. The forgone earnings of workers sickened or killed by pollution would be lower in low-wage countries, he noted, while people in poor countries also cared less about a clean environment. “The economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable,” he wrote.
Mr. Summers later apologized, saying his words were “sardonic counterpoint,” meant to spur new thinking about the environment and development. In any case, the World Bank’s encouragement wasn’t needed. In the 16 years since, a large share of the world’s polluting industries have migrated to the largest low-wage country of all, China, helping to turn big swaths of its landscape into an environmental disaster zone.
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