Lawrence Summers’ memorandum on exporting pollution to “Less Developed Countries” is an intelligent and economically efficient idea, but is terribly lacking in ethical validity.
Summers’ memorandum can be judged from two points of view: (1) Economically, and (2) Ethically.
It is, without a doubt, synonymous to economic theory and its logical validity cannot be argued. However, its ethical validity is questionable.
According to the memorandum, less developed countries (LDCs) would benefit from an increase in pollution, as it would provide them with financial compensation.
As Summers boldly stated, they are “vastly under polluted,” thus, it would be beneficial to everybody if dirty industries did migrate to LDCs.
But what he failed to clarify was that the residents of LDCs are mostly ignorant of the effects of pollution, and therefore would accept that pollution for a minimal amount of compensation.
He may be right in saying that the consequences of selling pollution to LDCs are comparatively less harmful than keeping it in developed countries, but it is unethical to take advantage of this ignorance on the part of the residents of LDCs.
The LDCs only think they are benefiting from this migration, when in truth they are selling their health at a throw-away price, so to speak.
Selling one’s health for a reasonable price may be considered economically just, but the ambiguity of the term “reasonable price” is something that ought to be carefully considered.
Can economics really put a ‘fair price’ on human life? I do not believe that any price in this regard can be considered ‘fair’ as, what is morally correct is far too relative and subjective. It is, therefore, quite impossible to arrive at a figure that would be considered “ethical.”
In conclusion, it can be said that while Summers’ memorandum is a stroke of genius (as one cannot help but applaud the boldness and innovation of this idea) it is lacking in terms of moral correctness.
It is unethical to take advantage of the ignorance and financial imposition of the LDCs and even more unethical to attempt to put a price on human life.