Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Late-Night Comment on the Retirement of Lawrence Summers

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.

A cold thing, this "economic logic."

This former World Bank economist, proclaiming that a capitalist economy can grow infinitely on a finite planet, the idea that what is good for capitalist enterprise is always what is good for the world, whose cost-benefit analysis did not include ethics or compassion for human beings, nor even ecological limits to growth -- this man has been Barack Obama's chief economic advisor since before Obama's inauguration.

Indeed, among the many leaders whom Summers has trained to think as he does are two American presidents. (The other was Clinton, who brought us NAFTA.) He was a determined and successful deregulator, pushing the repeal of Glass-Steagall and defending derivatives from regulations. Despite the economic calamity that has befallen us, thanks in part to his own hard work, he was called to service by another American president to guide and shape economic policy.

During Obama's presidency, little has been made of the notorious 1991 memo Summers authored while the World Bank's top economist. It included the line quoted at the top of this post, and the rest of it is juicy, too. Unapologetically, he makes the case -- using this inhumane "economic logic" -- that polluting the third world is good to do because it makes the most economic sense, because it is to the advantage of business.

It was a rare document, with the worldview showing itself unabashedly: morality and ethics are piquant little dreams and worthless next to the necessity of accumulating capital.

This is desire, or greed if you want to be more blunt, divorced from any sense of human consequence. So long as there are profits and growth, an economy is called "sound." The lives of the poor, the collateral damage to their communities, their streams, their air, do not factor in to the analysis.

This is a sick worldview. What are people for? What is the real bottom line?

1 comment:

Petteri Sulonen said...

Dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable economic logic, and we should face up to that.

I only differ with Larry Summers on the conclusion we should draw from facing up to it.

I find it very telling that it never occurs to Larry Summers to question the unspoken premise that 'impeccable economic logic' is the same thing as 'the right thing to do.'

Market fundamentalism—a true 21st century religion.