Extraordinary Pollution in Beijing, Lights Out at the Superbowl, and Other Signs of the Apocalypse
By Dennis Loo (2/4/13)
From Global Post: A picture
[Lawrence] Summers's main point was that life and health are worth less in poor countries than in rich ones. He measured that worth by the earnings lost when a person is sick or dies prematurely. But another good measure, maybe clearer, would be the amount a society will spend to save a life. Treatments that are routine in the United States, although they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, are simply not available to citizens of poor countries. You get cancer and you die. Of course this should not be true, but it undeniably is true, and rejecting the idea of poor countries earning a little cash by “buying” pollution from rich ones will do nothing to make it less true.
If an industrial plant that causes pollution is going to be built somewhere, it ought to be built where life is worth less. This sounds brutal, but it is not. Or rather, it is less brutal than reality. Turn it around: If a life is worth less, it is also cheaper to save. For what we spend in the United States to save a single life, you could save dozens or hundreds of lives in poor countries. So if the plant is going to be built somewhere, building it in a poor country will enable more lives to be saved than building it in a rich one. . . .
If a city in a rich country is very polluted and a city the same size in a poor country is not, you will save lives—in the rich country this time—if some of that pollution can be moved from the rich country to the poor one. And the money the rich country pays the poor one can save even more lives in the poor country.
The general point is that clean air and other environmental goods are luxuries. The richer a country is, the more of them it can afford. And if rich countries like the United States had had to meet some of the standards being wished upon poor countries today, we would still be poor ourselves.
Every economic transaction has two sides. When you deny a rich country the opportunity to unload some toxic waste on a poor one, you are also denying that poor country the opportunity to get paid for taking the toxic waste. And by forbidding this deal, you are putting off the day when the poor country will no longer need to make deals like this.[i] [Emphasis added.] (Pp. 25-26)
Kinsley, like Summers, who famously declared while Clinton's Treasury Secretary that "We're all Friedmanites now," meaning, even the Democrats are neoliberals/free market proponents, thinks that only the rich can enjoy unpolluted air. This reminds me of the movie Total Recall which is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story, about a colony on Mars where only the rich can get clean air and the proletariat has to endure polluted air that causes birth defects and grotesquely malformed faces and bodies.
Maintaining the infrastructure - bridges, roads, dams, etc. - and protecting public goods like the air and water, are languishing under neoliberal policies that tout the virtues of private goods and private needs and ridicule the very idea that there are such things as the public welfare outside of private profit-making opportunities.
Fiction and real life conspire to outdo the other...
My use of the term apocalypse in the title is tongue in cheek. But the reality of global disaster is not an exaggeration.