Larry Summers Makes Intemperate Remarks About Relative Intelligence Shocker!

by Henry on November 29, 2008

Can’t imagine “how we missed this”:http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/02/16/summers_should_go_ex_harvard_dean_says/ the first time around …

Over lunch not long after Summers took over the presidency in 2001, Ellison said, Summers suggested that some funds should be moved from a sociology program to the Kennedy School, home to many economists and political scientists. ”President Summers asked me, didn’t I agree that, in general, economists are smarter than political scientists, and political scientists are smarter than sociologists?” Ellison said. ”To which I laughed nervously and didn’t reply.”

Via “Josep Colomer”:http://jcolomer.blogspot.com/2008/11/normal-0-21-false-false-false.html.

{ 151 comments }

1

Bill Gardner 11.29.08 at 3:43 pm

As a psychologist, I am just happy when an economist notices my worthless self.

2

Chuchundra 11.29.08 at 3:47 pm

ZOMG! Larry Summers hates teh wimmenz!

3

Jacob Christensen 11.29.08 at 3:55 pm

In my more dismal moments, I tend to tweak Oscar Wilde’s observation:

Economists are people who now the price of everything and the value of nothing.

;-)

4

Jacob Christensen 11.29.08 at 3:56 pm

(arrrgh – “know”, not “now”…)

5

harry b 11.29.08 at 3:58 pm

Why didn’t he just take all the money away fromt he humanities arts and sociazl sciences and give it to the mathematicians and physicists (and one or two of the biologists)?

6

Eszter Hargittai 11.29.08 at 3:58 pm

Oy. I was just thinking earlier this week that it would be nice if not all advisers were economists. Wishful thinking perhaps.

7

MarkUp 11.29.08 at 4:10 pm

”Can’t imagine how we missed this the first time around …”

Wearing glasses will not only help with news reading, they make you look smarter at the same time. If you have good vision already skip the plain glass models and go nuevo chic and get a nice horn rim tat.

8

J. Rankin 11.29.08 at 4:11 pm

Well, by that logic, all the money should be going to the philosophers.

9

mcd 11.29.08 at 4:17 pm

“smarter than” = “to the right of”.

10

Chris Bertram 11.29.08 at 4:19 pm

Surely lawyers are the smartest … and Summers had some of the very smartest ones at Harvard.

11

Richard 11.29.08 at 4:46 pm

GRE scores would seem to support Summers’ claim. Contra ‘mcd’, it is not the case that “smarter than” = “to the right of”. Philosophers are much higher on the list than Business students, for example.

12

roger 11.29.08 at 5:55 pm

Philosophers are sometimes so smart that some of them view smartness as a joke, and the idea that a test score tells us anything about it as a cruel joke. Alas, Summers still probably thinks that economics is a science, instead of what it really is: a branch of science fiction. And usually not a very good branch – whereas the plots of science fiction require some sense of human relationships and a high degree of imagination, the plots of the economists, which they call models, requires a low degree of both of those qualities, for any excess of sympathy or doubt that the central passion of human beings is to have more of whatever is on hand leads you straight out of the economics department.

13

ibtj 11.29.08 at 5:58 pm

It’s not the “truth” of the claim that is at question here – it’s its usefulness. How does this conversation improve our respective lives/help us construct policies to improve society? Where do other qualities such as judgment and goodness of character fit in? After all, a lot of really smart/technically proficient/math smart (which is what we’re ultimately talking about here, right?) people have done some really bad (and stupid) things lately.

14

J Lee 11.29.08 at 7:07 pm

When I think back on all my classmates the poor ones couldn’t afford to go on to university, the passable ones went into business or social sciences, the average ones went into medicine and law, and the brightest went into mathematics, science, literature and philosophy. Those with particular talents were already budding composers, painters and opera singers or athletes. And just from observation, it seems that the further up the scale the further left the politics.

15

Jon 11.29.08 at 7:13 pm

The GRE scores Richard cites are, unsurprisingly, a flawed guide; most obviously, they give tremendous weight to being in a math-heavy discipline. Assuming the numbers to be accurate, no category of test-takers averages more than 585 or 573 verbal (philosophers and English majors), but students in math-heavy fields shoot to the top of the list by averaging as high as 720 quantitative (electrical engineers). This doesn’t mean that the electrical engineers are smarter.

16

David 11.29.08 at 7:17 pm

Given that the bedrock tenet of economics — human beings as rational actors — is so clearly and ludicrously false, I would have to say that smarter than equates to too clever by half. Summers may well be a good choice but he has an awful case of foot-in-mouth disease. I hope that he is well balanced by others in the administration.

17

JP Stormcrow 11.29.08 at 7:49 pm

Shorter Larry Summers: Economists are the investment banks and sociologists the domestic auto companies of the academy.

18

Stark 11.29.08 at 8:28 pm

Don’t let my English and Religious studies colleagues get a hold of those scores, our my History department will never hear the end of it.

19

Stark 11.29.08 at 8:29 pm

Ignore the erroneous ‘our’… -_-

20

notsneaky 11.29.08 at 8:42 pm

“most obviously, they give tremendous weight to being in a math-heavy discipline.”

Yes, but they’re biased against Economics (and couple other disciplines) because they don’t take into account the fact that Economics (and couple other disciplines) are way more likely to have a higher proportion of foreign, non-English-as-first-language speaking students, than Sociology and Psychology etc. who surely pull down that Verbal score.

21

green apron monkey 11.29.08 at 8:44 pm

OMG! Horrors! Petty academic gamesmanship! Offhand remarks by an academic ribbing a rival discupline! WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS BEFORE?!

22

wcergeek 11.29.08 at 9:05 pm

This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite xkcd comics:
http://xkcd.com/435/

I’m the sociologist

23

Ehud 11.29.08 at 9:31 pm

I am constantly amazed that the Summers appointment didn’t raise more objections. I wonder what would have happened if Bush, say, would have appointed an accomplished economist who thought African Americans are less intelligent than Whites (heck, the test scores “prove” it!).

24

eudoxis 11.29.08 at 9:40 pm

Ellison said. ‘’To which I laughed nervously and didn’t reply.”
Of course he was nervous, being an anthropologist.

25

dsquared 11.29.08 at 9:42 pm

22: that comic should have another sociologist (possibly Bruno Latour) at the right end of the panel saying “I know you think that what you’re doing is something other than human social behaviour …”

26

TW Andrews 11.29.08 at 9:44 pm

Is he wrong?

27

a 11.29.08 at 10:14 pm

Of course, anyone who thinks that GREs measure intelligence, isn’t intelligent.

28

John Emerson 11.29.08 at 10:16 pm

I recently saw speculation that some of the recent problems with finance were the result of the use of high-powered but unrealistic mathematical models devised by mathematicians with a weak econ background.

I’d like to see this idea developed further, and until it is refuted I will believe it and tell everyone.

29

green apron monkey 11.29.08 at 10:24 pm

Ehud,
I believe Summers said there was more variance in Female math scores, not that women weren’t as good at math. g-loving psychologists believe that blacks are on average less intelligent than whites: there’s a world of difference.

Further, I think it’s perfectly fine to argue that what’s measured on IQ tests is not quite intelligence. However, I’m unable to think of a good reason to think why standardized math tests do not actually measure mathematical ability.

OT: It feels weird to be talking about group identity and IQ as though this were the intellectual baggage of Economics. This issue is 100% Psychology’s bag, so let’s all take turns denouncing THEM for a change.

30

andthenyoufall 11.29.08 at 10:28 pm

re: the GRE scores, it’s important to remember that these are averages across all graduate programs, and probably not horribly representative of disparities in Harvard’s graduate programs, and not a sensible grounds for Summers to believe such a thing. The substantive implications of the gap between the 95th and 99th percentile on aptitude tests: large or small? You be the judge.

Whenever someone brings up those statistics, I wonder if there is a sunspot equilibrium at work. Knowing that my GRE score was fairly important, I wasted more hours than I care to think about memorizing archaic words and speeding through middle-school math problems in preparation. In another field where GREs were even more important, I might have crammed even more intensively. In still another field, I might have spent most of a summer polishing a writing sample. That alone would explain these results.

31

notsneaky 11.29.08 at 10:33 pm

“use of high-powered but unrealistic mathematical models devised by mathematicians with a weak econ background”

I don’t know if the present financial troubles can be blamed on that, but I do know that often times when mathematicians (and physicists too) grab hold of econ or finance topics they go all wacko with hubris and have no idea of what they’re doing. Probably a lot like when economics get hold of sociology topics.

32

a 11.29.08 at 11:00 pm

“However, I’m unable to think of a good reason to think why standardized math tests do not actually measure mathematical ability.”

It would depend on the type of standardized math test, and the level of mathematical ability you are hoping to ascertain. Even the MAA test (a multiple choice test given to high school tests to earn qualification for the high school Math Olympiad) only tests a particular type of mathematical ability, and there are many fine mathematicians who would do (or did) poorly on it.

33

Stark 11.29.08 at 11:14 pm

An “lol” to John Emerson in 28.

34

peter 11.29.08 at 11:15 pm

“However, I’m unable to think of a good reason to think why standardized math tests do not actually measure mathematical ability.”

And, to add to a’s response at #31, any so-called test of ability (IQ, GRE, etc) also partly tests the ability of the candidate to perform the test under the conditions of the conduct of the test. Black American students perform significantly better on IQ tests when the test papers are handed out by black people than when they are handed out by white people. Given such contextual effects, one has to wonder about the intellectual ability of any person, famous economist or not, who takes tests seriously.

35

green apron monkey 11.29.08 at 11:35 pm

I’m pretty aware of the shortcomings of IQ tests (I spend hours each month arguing with my psychologist coworkers about them). I wasn’t aware that there was a similar race of presenter effect on pure math tests. Peter, could you provide a link?

My general thoughts are:
1. Testing psychologists care a whole lot about the reliability of the constructs they measure.
2. Math skill seems like an easier thing to measure than general intelligence.

From that I just reckoned that psychologists would be pretty good at it. Personally, I’d love to hear why they are not.

36

Brett Bellmore 11.30.08 at 12:23 am

I believe Summers said there was more variance in Female math scores,

The precise opposite, actually. The theory goes that there are fewer female geniuses, AND fewer female morons, (Not that feminists get upset about people noticing the latter…) because female intelligence is less variable than male. Possibly because of X chromosome genes men only have one copy of, but women have two copies of, and thus less average variance in.

37

David Wright 11.30.08 at 12:54 am

I love lbtj’s attempted intellectual jujitzu: “We aren’t outraged by the falsity of the statement (since, on any concievable objective measure, it is in fact true). We are outraged by it’s uselessness.” Yes, that’s why so many humanities professors dedicate their lives to studying incredibly useful texts of postmodern critical theory.

I also love the many commenters who have decided that, the results of any sort of objective measurements being extremely inconvenient for their side of the argument, any sort of objective measurements are highly dubious and should not be trusted. These are practictioners of disciplies that, in a desperate attempt to introduce some sort of quantitative rigor despite the fact that their undergraduates must labor mightily to comprehend a 2X2 contingency table, regularly tollerate all sorts of highly dubious quantifications and ignore all sorts of confounding factors. Yet suddenly these same people are expert de-constructors of controled tests that professional statisticians have worked on for decades.

The humanities types can exercise their outrage on blogs and in faculty senates all they want, but the rest of the world knows the score. My local newspaper recently ran an “expose” revealing the shocking fact that, now that we are requiring college sports players to actually get decent grades, most are still sucessfully evading academicly challenging work by majoring in subjects like sociology and anthropology.

38

Alex 11.30.08 at 1:11 am

My local newspaper recently ran an “expose” revealing the shocking fact that, now that we are requiring college sports players to actually get decent grades, most are still sucessfully evading academicly challenging work by majoring in subjects like sociology and anthropology.

Such a local local newspaper that it doesn’t even have a Web site. Such a pure-g smartster that he can’t even cite the issue in question. And every sociology student can at least cite!

39

roger 11.30.08 at 1:13 am

LarryWright, I disagree. The score is crap. The idea that you can measure intelligence, a bogus fiction that simply reflects the prejudices of a small group of white guys in Europe in the nineteenth cenury, with more specificity than you can, say, unemployment, which is subject to enormous controversies concerning the metrics used to plumb it, simply shows the continuing irrelevance of people who have built their self-images on the fantasies of a small group of White Guys in Europe in the nineteenth century. There’s no g. There’s no mathematical intelligence. That of course doesn’t even make any sense – math covers an amazing range of subdisciplines, and I don’t know why I’m supposed to believe algebra intelligence is the same as, say, topological intelligence. Why group them together? Is there any reason in neurology? Do they exist in different brain wrinkles that the white guy brain phrenologists – the ones that will be quoted with religious fervor on Slate – are gonna ferret out?

In fact, as science is a community product, the testing of it as though it were still an institution stuck in the virtuoso phase of the 18th century is laughable. No intelligence testing should be done singly. Otherwise, the test results will give you nothing – bullshit in, bullshit out. Termin already did his little study of his geniuses back in the golden days when you could still believe that racists, sexist dreck, culling them carefully out, keeping in touch with them over the courses of their life, and they all turned out to be your usual mediocrities. If Termin had had the fortune to meet Einstein, of course, who didn’t have a great deal of “mathematical intelligence”, he would surely not have gone into the genius group, and would have gone into Summers beta group. The mystification of science here is typical of the pseudo-scientific, where math is some magical characteristic that explains what those people in the laboratory are doing. Except for extremely theoretical physics, it is difficult to know what Summers is talking about. Does he think, even if his bogus points are true, that the tests he is talking about have anything to do with, say, bio-engineering? Or genomics? Etc., etc. In fact, as his own brief career at Harvard shows, if you are socially blind – if you have a social intelligence quotient at the 90 stage – you will eventually land on your ass, and as punishment, become a hero to talk radio dittoheads. What a sad thing to happen to a person in his own lifetime!

40

vivian 11.30.08 at 1:43 am

Don’t forget Summers’ other low-lights from his time at Harvard. He started off insulting Cornel West, privately and then publicly, at their first meeting. Then followed some more petty slights while West was getting cancer treatments. Chased the most intellectually generous man then at Harvard off to Princeton, for reaching out to nonacademics. Then (to Harvard faculty’s embarrassment, and MIT’s great pleasure) he busted the budget poaching Pinker (of the pop-psych/development books). Made up the money by unilaterally rejecting tenure for people who weren’t already famous in fields he didn’t like so much.

Now, maybe the man works really well together with other high-status economists, and as long as they stick to the subject at hand, they do good for the world. But it should take an awful lot of good work before we stop mocking him.

41

Anonymous 11.30.08 at 3:25 am

Chased the most intellectually generous man then at Harvard off to Princeton, for reaching out to nonacademics.

I wouldn’t consider this a fair assessment of the Cornel West situation. An equally (un)fair statement on the opposite side would be that he chased the lightest-weight university professor at Harvard off to Princeton, for neglecting to continue doing high-quality scholarly work.

Then (to Harvard faculty’s embarrassment, and MIT’s great pleasure) he busted the budget poaching Pinker (of the pop-psych/development books).

You may not like Pinker’s popular books, but I know a bunch of people in the relevant departments at Harvard and MIT. On the whole, MIT was very unhappy to lose him and Harvard was pleased to get him. In any case, the Harvard president simply doesn’t have the power to force an unwanted hire on any department.

Made up the money by unilaterally rejecting tenure for people who weren’t already famous in fields he didn’t like so much.

Yeah, well, that’s how tenure works at Harvard in most departments, so he was just extending this procedure to the departments that had lower standards. The most notable case was the law school, where he was 100% right that Harvard Law had much lower scholarly standards than Yale and that there was no good reason they couldn’t recruit Yale-quality faculty if they cared to.

42

ScentOfViolets 11.30.08 at 3:28 am

I also love the many commenters who have decided that, the results of any sort of objective measurements being extremely inconvenient for their side of the argument, any sort of objective measurements are highly dubious and should not be trusted. These are practictioners of disciplies that, in a desperate attempt to introduce some sort of quantitative rigor despite the fact that their undergraduates must labor mightily to comprehend a 2X2 contingency table, regularly tollerate all sorts of highly dubious quantifications and ignore all sorts of confounding factors. Yet suddenly these same people are expert de-constructors of controled tests that professional statisticians have worked on for decades.

By way of background on mathematical aptitude, this is the same person who claimed that the Bush tax cuts were ‘progressive’, because as ratios, post-cut to pre-cut was greater for the middle class than the wealthy. Despite having it painstakingly explained to him several times that, no, this is not the sort of data you can take ratios from, any more than temperatures in Centigrade or Fahrenheit can be taken as ratios. So while this claim might be true, this is not the person to be making the claim. I’d also note that while I’ve seen plenty of chemistry majors, or EE majors get into computing because they couldn’t hack the math, I’ve never seen the converse, comp-sci majors going into chemistry or EE because the math was too hard. So those relative GRE scores need to be taken with a heaping tablespoon of salt.

The humanities types can exercise their outrage on blogs and in faculty senates all they want, but the rest of the world knows the score. My local newspaper recently ran an “expose” revealing the shocking fact that, now that we are requiring college sports players to actually get decent grades, most are still sucessfully evading academicly challenging work by majoring in subjects like sociology and anthropology.

Well, I’d say it might be because (if this is really the case, which I tend to doubt) it’s easier to game a sociology grade for the same reason it’s easier to game an English grade: because of the necessarily more subjective component. I’ve had several parents try to pressure me to change the grade their kid received; but I can pull out quizzes, homework, and exams that show in a somewhat more objective way that no, the grade in question was, if anything, too high. I suspect that’s a little harder to do with an essay type question.

43

arthur 11.30.08 at 4:03 am

And just to complete the trifecta, does everyone remember the Summers memo about exporting pollution to third world countries because life is cheap over there? If anything, that memo shows that Summers is a Beckerite imperialist who brushes away the ideas in other fields rather than to address them.

I recently saw speculation that some of the recent problems with finance were the result of the use of high-powered but unrealistic mathematical models devised by mathematicians with a weak econ background.

It is more of a case of models being devised by matematicians with no econ background. I think it is telling that the Financial Engineering degree at Columbia is taught by the Industrial Engineering department. FE courses spend most of their time teaching mathematics and computer science. Any finance courses taught to them are usually electives at the advanced undergrad/MBA level. And most people entering FE are former scientists/engineers.

That said, I don’t think knowledge of economics would have averted the crisis, as the whole mess was caused by good old fashioned greed. The problem wasn’t one of the models coming up with the wrong security prices, but that of banks knowingly selling worthless securities at inflated prices. Even if the bankers and quants knew more knew economics, the incentives to do what they have done will still be there.

44

Aulus Gellius 11.30.08 at 5:22 am

@David Wright
Not to pile on, but I think what we’re all saying is: could you just go back to training so you could maybe get the Mets into the playoffs next year? I mean, I don’t blame you mostly, but it’s been a rough couple of seasons.

45

Michael Turner 11.30.08 at 7:57 am

And just to complete the trifecta, does everyone remember the Summers memo about exporting pollution to third world countries because life is cheap over there? If anything, that memo shows that Summers is a Beckerite imperialist who brushes away the ideas in other fields rather than to address them.

You know, there really should be a “political intelligence” component in the GRE scores. Let me suggest a question for that part of the test:

A noted economist at the World Bank with notable liberal leanings is reportedly the author of a leaked World Bank memo in which he allegedly wrote, in part, “I’ve always thought under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.”

From your first impression, what would you say this memo is most likely to be?

(1) In dead earnest, and after all, what else do you expect of the globalizing corporate planet-rapers at the World Bank, so let’s make a big paper-mache sculpture of Larry Summers and burn him in effigy.

(2) A forgery cleverly written in the usual style employed at the World Bank, possibly designed to discredit Larry Summers, but also possibly a policy trial balloon. Let’s discuss.

(3) Bwahahahahaha!! Who wants to bet that if we go look up “Summers memo” on Wikipedia, we’ll find clueless morons who would answer (1) or (2) still edit-warring over it?

Scoring:

(3) 10 out of 10
(2) 0 out of 10
(1) 0 out of 10, and we’re going to subtract 500 points from your scores on the other components of the test, just to make sure no graduate school on Earth gets accidentally saddled with you, even for one term. After all, they might sue us if your Summers effigy topples over and ignites their Anthro Department library on fire.

46

John Emerson 11.30.08 at 12:04 pm

What is the word on the Summers memo? The claim is out that the leaked memo had been doctored and was really satirical or critical in intent, but this claim is not accompanied by the complete text of the memo. There’s also the fact that Summers signed it, which pretty much makes it irrelevant that someone else wrote it.

47

Barry 11.30.08 at 1:49 pm

Vivian, re Summers:

“Now, maybe the man works really well together with other high-status economists, and as long as they stick to the subject at hand, they do good for the world. But it should take an awful lot of good work before we stop mocking him.”

Do *good* for the world? Collect money and power, and aid the upward redistribution of money and power, but people like Summers don’t do good; good doesn’t pay nearly as well as evil.

We’re watching the majority of elite economists proven to be at best far more ignorant that they pretend; more likely to be every bit as much evil as leftists believed.

48

Zamfir 11.30.08 at 1:52 pm

Perhaps it’s just me, but does it matter one bit whether Summers’ statement can be defended or not? I’d say the point is that he is apparently a jerk to the people below him, to a level that would make him unfit for many jobs.

49

Brett Bellmore 11.30.08 at 2:18 pm

“Perhaps it’s just me, but does it matter one bit whether Summers’ statement can be defended or not?”

I should think it does: The truth has some value, does it not? At least, whatever claim academia has to fatten itself at the public trough, and attack public prejudices, is based on the claim that there’s some truth to be found there, and that truth is important.

Otherwise you’re just a competing set of prejudices, and we ought to cut you off at the financial knees.

50

Slocum 11.30.08 at 2:21 pm

From your first impression, what would you say this memo is most likely to be?

Hard to say — it may be a forgery or an exaggerated version of the real thing, but it’s not out of character for Summers. That is, the core idea is sound, but the expression is completely politically and socially tone deaf. Really — isn’t that Summers all over?

The core idea, of course, is that nations have roughly the level of environmental protection that they can afford. We, in the west, have much more expensive, stringent standards than we did in previous generations, and–assuming we continue to get richer–will have even more stringent standards in future generations. Along the same lines, developing nations now cannot afford western health and safety standards. Or, put another way, it would generally be far better to spend a given amount of money in sub-Saharan Africa on preventing Malaria or childhood malnutrition than in, say, reducing the exposure to an industrial chemical that would reduce the added prostate cancer at age 60 risk from one in 1000 to one in 10,000. But expressing this idea as ‘under-pollution’ in Africa or the desirability of ‘exporting pollution’ could only come from somebody who had no clue how what he was saying would be perceived — e.g. Summers.

51

Michael Turner 11.30.08 at 2:41 pm

NY Times, “Furor on Memo at World Bank”, Feb 7, 1992:

. . . . Mr. Summers said in a recent interview that the seven-page memo was a strongly worded and sarcastic response to a vague draft text on environmental issues by another World Bank division.

The World Bank said in a statement today that the memo did not represent the institution’s position and that Mr. Summers had apologized “for any misconceptions it may have generated.”

In other words, the whole point of the memo was to say something about the World Bank that many anti-globalization protesters would probably have heartily agreed with. If it was the World Bank, and not Summers himself, reporting the apology, it was probably because Summers’ idea of an “apology” in this case would be “I’m very, very sorry there are so many stupid people in the world who think I’d seriously endorse any such positions, just because I work for an organization that — much to my amazement and chagrin — employs some people who actually do believe things not wildly different from what the obviously satirical memo expresses. We just weren’t up to the challenge of making it satirical enough for everybody to get the joke, I guess. And for that, we couldn’t possibly apologize enough. So — screw it. We won’t.”

Let me be the 127,473rd person to express my utter and complete outrage at the outrageously outrageous behavior of Larry Summers in the matter of this memo. He should be sentenced to 8 years of making paper-mache effigies of himself and burning them every Friday evening on the White House lawn, while also maintaining a full-time schedule of economic rescue planning at a salary of probably less than one-fifth of what he could command in the private sector. For the sake of appearing merciful in sentencing, we can throw in the standard qualifier of “time off for good behavior”, under the safe assumption that he’s incapable of that anyway.

52

Michael Turner 11.30.08 at 2:42 pm

Paragraph starting “The World Bank said” should also be in that blockquote, sorry.

53

R Johnston 11.30.08 at 2:46 pm

In my experience, most economists are either people who very specifically couldn’t hack it in a real science in college or right-wing poli sci people with a delusion of mathematical capability. The use of math by economists is largely a joke designed to give the veneer of neutrality to blind ideology. The absurdly high percentage of economists who so dramatically understate transaction costs an other inefficiencies built into the markets they study as to make their mathematical models completely useless is a major indictment of the profession. Economists may or may not be smarter than Poli Sci and Humanities people on average, but they’re definitely far more delusional about the world and about their own capabilities than are people in just about any other area of study.

Any economics “profession” that didn’t see the housing bubble and burst coming and collectively raise the alarm bells is a completely useless “profession.” Anyone even slightly mathematically literate knew what was coming and was very, very scared.

54

John Emerson 11.30.08 at 2:55 pm

Hard to say—it may be a forgery or an exaggerated version of the real thing, but it’s not out of character for Summers. That is, the core idea is sound, but the expression is completely politically and socially tone deaf.

Thank you Slocum.

55

LFC 11.30.08 at 4:12 pm

Anonymous @41 seems to think that one has to be “already famous” in a field in order to get tenure in most departments at Harvard. That was largely (though never entirely) true a good many years ago, but even a non-inside casual observer can discern that it’s not true now and hasn’t been for quite a while.

56

green apron monkey 11.30.08 at 4:58 pm

I had never heard that Summers was a jerk to people below him until his Harvard experience.

Everyone who’s worked with him at Treasury thinks the world of him, and my Aunt at the World Bank says that he was well liked there.

Personally, I don’t really hold it against anyone if they can’t hack it in campus politics, which is somehow even more petty and vicious than regular politics.

57

roy belmont 11.30.08 at 5:14 pm

slocum:
We, in the west, have much more expensive, stringent standards than we did in previous generations, and—assuming we continue to get richer—will have even more stringent standards in future generations.
Stringent tandards for pollution near us, but not for pollution caused by us. That’s the point eh? Can’t see it from my house.
Not being an economist I find myself lately increasingly prey to fears of a Russian-style rape by oligarchy. Of the US, my country, not me personally.
I keep looking to these economist types online for reassurance, but alas currently have found none whose message provides that comfort.
So your “assuming we continue to get richer” will have to do.
Unless by “we” you mean you and yours, and not me and mine as well.
Which is sort of the point about Summers.

58

trane 11.30.08 at 5:25 pm

Re: the memo thing

A hint for Michael Turner’s test might be to look up the author of the memo, Lant Pritchett, and see what kind of political positions he takes. Pritchett has published a book called Let Their People Come.

Wikipedia on that…
“He argues that the most effective way the developed world can help impoverished countries is to allow vastly increased numbers of low skilled laborers as guest workers. He describes what he sees as an immoral cycle of using ever more sophisticated technology to reduce labor while billions of willing workers live in extreme poverty.”

Oh, and Pritchett has written some fine papers on poverty, social capital and safety nets in Indonesia.

59

Kaveh Hemmat 11.30.08 at 5:35 pm

It sounds like slocum hit the nail on the head.

60

Peter 11.30.08 at 5:48 pm

I don’t know why I think this way, it really makes no sense, but there is just something particularly annoying about Summers’ double chin.

61

John Emerson 11.30.08 at 6:17 pm

The idea that Summers’ message was ironic would be more plausible if we didn’t have a practice in the US of dumping pollution on Indian reservations and upstream from poor black communities — whichever people have the least capacity for resistance. It’s not that poor communities choose pollution for the sake of a higher material standard of living, it’s just that they don’t have much political power.

That kind of glib jocularity is more offensive to the people being talked about than it is to the people making the jokes. They know that someone else is going to decide their fate, and they’re a bit touchy about the things the decisionmakers say.

62

Coldtype 11.30.08 at 6:39 pm

“…the core idea is sound… ”
-Slocum

Really? I missed it.

63

Kaveh Hemmat 11.30.08 at 6:49 pm

@62 The core idea being that pollution control could be less important in very poor countries than it is in rich countries, compared to other health/productivity-related goods, like vaccinations and better roads, being provided in poor countries.

But as John points out, people or even governments in poor countries aren’t even necessarily making a choice about their own pollution levels. For example recently I read about illegal dumping of nuclear waste and other toxic waste off the coast of Somalia.

64

Kaveh Hemmat 11.30.08 at 6:52 pm

65

notsneaky 11.30.08 at 7:25 pm

Are Michael Turner and trane in agreement here?

According to Lant Pritchett, the memo was “a deliberate fraud and forgery to discredit Larry and the World Bank.” because the “memo as leaked was doctored to remove context and intended irony”. Now, I can see how people think Summers is a jerk. But Pritchett is not and his saying this makes the claim a lot more credible.

66

John Emerson 11.30.08 at 7:34 pm

I’d believe Pritchett if I saw the full memo. Saying that you were “quoted out of context” only works if you actually were quoted out of context.

67

trane 11.30.08 at 9:04 pm

“Are Michael Turner and trane in agreement here?”
I think yes, as regards the direction of the comment: Summers may have done other things criticisable, but the memo is not one.

About the exact wording of MT, the scoring and stuff, I don’t know.

Re: Pritchett
I have never met the man, but my impression from reading some of his work is that with his choice of and angle on topics it would be very odd to draft a memo like that without being ironic about it.

68

harold 11.30.08 at 10:47 pm

Summers also said that US agriculture is unimportant because it is only 4 percent of the economy.

69

Barry 11.30.08 at 11:03 pm

Michael Turner, quoting the NYT: “The World Bank said in a statement today that the memo did not represent the institution’s position and that Mr. Summers had apologized “for any misconceptions it may have generated.””

To me, this sounds like a classic non-denial denial. If Summers didn’t write it, then why is he apologizing for it?

70

Martin James 12.01.08 at 6:46 am

I know Lant very well and the irony of the memo was an attempt to show that strictly economic reasoning yielded results that were the opposite of what those using them intended.

That said, Larry and Lant have both said a lot of things that others find offensive. I always thought that was just part of the Harvard brand.

71

Coldtype 12.01.08 at 7:45 am

“The core idea being that pollution control could be less important in very poor countries than it is in rich countries, compared to other health/productivity-related goods, like vaccinations and better roads, being provided in poor countries”
-Kaveh Hemmat

Less important by who’s estimation? Surely you don’t suggest that if the matter were put to a referendum in the prospective countries that the population would accept the dumping of our toxic pollutants in exchange for vaccinations and road repair? Fascinating.

72

Michael Turner 12.01.08 at 8:06 am

Remember, people (by “people” I mean Barry, Emerson, a scattering of others here), there’s this thing called looking stuff up. It’s easy, it’s fun, and, like not looking stuff up, it’s an internet tradition of which we should all be aware.

I had actually linked my mention of a Wikipedia article on “Summers memo” to the Wikipedia article itself, in my suggested “test question” above. But then I erased the linkage. Too obvious, I thought. In that, I somehow forgot that this whole Summers Memo incident was a textbook case illustrating why there really is no such thing as “too obvious”.

73

Tracy W 12.01.08 at 10:37 am

Surely you don’t suggest that if the matter were put to a referendum in the prospective countries that the population would accept the dumping of our toxic pollutants in exchange for vaccinations and road repair?

Well British coal miners heartily protested the closure of their coal mines, despite the immense human cost of coal mining. Admittedly that was for a wage paid directly, rather than public services like vaccinations and road repair, but the willingness of people to risk their lives often amazes me.

Another example is the lack of interest in the West to giving up driving in response to fears about carbon dioxide emissions, or indeed the many vivid and obvious examples of how lethal car crashes can be. (Note, I drive too).

74

Dave 12.01.08 at 11:40 am

This bus may have left, to be replaced with something about some memo or other, but going back to the point about intelligence, is there anyone here who actually wants decision-makers to be chosen for their ability to do those funny pattern-matching things they make you do in IQ tests?

And however you measure intelligence, the idea that it might be a way of picking leaders, in place of those more unquantifiable, floofy and pointless characteristics like honesty, morality, judgment and common sense, ought to make anyone with an ounce of h, m, j or cs shudder. As should the apparently related notion above that academic disciplines that don’t require the active exercise of such qualities, replacing them with the ability to do sums, are inherently better

Of course, if we can get leadership with honesty, morality, judgment, common sense and quantifiable intelligence, no problem.

75

Dan S. 12.01.08 at 12:41 pm

I believe Summers said [variance, etc.]

text and subtext; any stick will do to beat some womenz.

76

John Emerson 12.01.08 at 3:09 pm

Person (and by “person” I mean Michael Turner), I’d already read the Harvard piece. None of the three sources you gave does more than repeat Pritchett’s claim. What I wanted to see was the original seven-page memo, to see whether the citation looked better in context. My point was simply that if you say “out of context” you must provide the context.

One of the things Summers might have said is something like “That isn’t my opinion, it’s my aide’s parody of Gary Becker”. Did he ever say that? The opinion expressed is not a straw man; effectively, it’s an actual economic defense of a contemporary practice. The only question is whether it’s Summers’ opinion or not.

I’m on the prosecution side as far as Summers goes, and it’s up to the defense to do their own research. There are lots of reasons to dislike the guy, with or without the memo, if you’re not Brad DeLong.

77

Michael Turner 12.01.08 at 4:19 pm

Prosecute away, Emerson. You’re standing in front of a jury, pointing to obvious parody, and you’re either saying “That’s not funny!” or “Maybe it’s funny, but I know that Larry Summers wouldn’t recognize it as such.” I’m on the jury side, and from where I sit, you’re either laughably humorless, or you’re implying you have some intimate knowledge of Larry Summers’ sense of humor (or rather, lack thereof) that you’re actually quite unlikely to have.

I suppose there are lots of reasons to dislike Larry Summers. However, when I imagine him signing Lantz’s “memo” with a lordly flourish, as a practical joke on self-serious morons and/or corrupt bureaucrats in the World Bank, I see only a reason to like him.

78

ScentOfViolets 12.01.08 at 4:32 pm

Michael, as a member of the jury, I’d disagree with you. If the remarks were truly ‘taken out of context’, it would be up to the defendant to show what the context was really was; not on the prosecutor to show that this assertion was a lie, not when the prosecution has no access to the unedited material and the defendant does.

Why does this seem to be such an unreasonable standard to you? Contrariwise, what would have to be demonstrated to convince you that these remarks were not taken out of context? Something that it would actually be within the power of the prosecution to prove? It seems as if you are implicitly using an unreasonably high standard for the simple reason that explicitly stating what it was would not help your case.

79

lemuel pitkin 12.01.08 at 4:33 pm

obvious parody

But it’s not at all obvious that it’s a parody. Here is the passage in context (from here):

3. _”Dirty” industries_ Just between you and me, shouldn’t the
World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to
the LDCs? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurement of the costs of health impairing pollution
depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and
mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health
Impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest
cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. 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.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial
Increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always
thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly
_under_-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently
low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable
facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries
(transport, electrical generation) and that the unit
transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare
enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health
reasons Is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern
over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of
prostrate [sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a
country where people survive to got prostate cancer than in a
country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of
the concern over industrial atmospheric discharge is about visibility
impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct
health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic
pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is
mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for
more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral
reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be
turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank
proposal for liberalization.

80

mds 12.01.08 at 4:42 pm

However, when I imagine him signing Lantz’s “memo” with a lordly flourish, as a practical joke on self-serious morons and/or corrupt bureaucrats in the World Bank, I see only a reason to like him.

Whereupon, to continue the analogy, the prosecution shouts “Objection! Presumes facts not in evidence!” Because “Hey, I’ll just pull what someone meant out of my backside, and magically, it agrees with my own biases” is not actually particularly compelling. Though perhaps Mr. Emerson’s standards for context and evidence are set low enough to include “fantasies inside Mr. Turner’s head,” in which case he can pronounce himself satisfied.

81

John Emerson 12.01.08 at 4:58 pm

Turner, it’s not an obvious parody. Chicago school economists actually think that way, and a lot of globalizers think that way. In order to absolve Summers, I’d really want to see the full memo and also know what he actually thinks on the topics in question.

82

Slocum 12.01.08 at 5:28 pm

Surely you don’t suggest that if the matter were put to a referendum in the prospective countries that the population would accept the dumping of our toxic pollutants in exchange for vaccinations and road repair? Fascinating.

Put it this way. Would populations in prospective countries accept industries that were clean enough for the U.S. or E.U. in 1975 but are not clean enough now in exchange for the wealth/jobs/economic development that those industries would bring?

Or…the Chinese have accepted a great deal of pollution along with the rapid economic development of the last 30 years. Do you think a referendum would show that the Chinese generally think it has not been worth it, and that they would now choose to turn the clock back to the cleaner dirt-poor rural poverty of 1975?

83

John Emerson 12.01.08 at 6:44 pm

We’re talking about China here, so saying that “The Chinese have accepted” is a bit far-fetched, as is the idea that there might be a referendum there.

84

curious citizen 12.01.08 at 8:51 pm

Besides asking whether “The Chinese have accepted”, we might also ask whether the caveman has (or would have) or, for that matter, whether future generations would accept this or that proposal:

In the discussion Wittgenstein said that when there is a change in the conditions in which people live, we may call it progress because it opens up new possibilities. But in the course of this change, opportunities which were there before may be lost. In one way it was progress, in another it was decline. A historical change may be progress and also be ruin. There is no method of weighing one against the other to justify you in speaking of “progress on the whole”.

Farrington did not see how progress could also be ruin. What would be an example of this?

Wittgenstein: “Why, just what you described when you said that the mining of iron and coal made it possible for industry to develop and at the same time scarred the valley with slag-heaps and old machinery.”

Farrington thought this was not a reason against saying that there has been progress on the whole. “With all the ugly sides of our civilization, I am sure I would rather live as we do now than have to live as the caveman did.”

Wittgenstein: “Yes of course you would. But would the caveman?”

(Logic and Sin in the Writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein By Philip R. Shields)

85

roy belmont 12.01.08 at 11:11 pm

“caveman” is pejorative from the get, so anyone defined as “caveman” automatically doesn’t get a full vote as to progress. Being as how they are primitive and all.
See also, bushman, indigenous, etc.
People who are not cavemen debating the interests of the cavemen.
What helps disguise the real parameters of the debate is the illusion that species evolution doesn’t happen in “modern” humans. So the essence of what we are goes along unchanged through whatever conditions ensue from progress. When in fact what we are is changed, and changing. And those once marginal, in the “caveman” time, are now central, and will defend those changes as important, necessary, inevitable. And see living like a caveman as tantamount to a dog’s life.
Even as the changes modern man brings wreak havoc on the whole world, and threaten the species itself with extinction.

86

roger 12.01.08 at 11:25 pm

This is an odd turn for the discussion. Still, I’m surprised nobody has linked to Michael Kinsley’s presumably serious defense of what Larry Summers, if we are to believe this thread, thought was a joke. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2008/11/revisiting_one_lawrence_summer.html

As you can see, there are people – pundits in the media, founders of the ever contrarian slate – who can’t wait to see this implemented.

Funny Summers didn’t write into the Post, going Joke! Joke!

87

notsneaky 12.02.08 at 12:04 am

I don’t know about Wittgenstein but…

“Pff. Civilized men! They poison all around them and call it progress!” – Conan the Cimmerian.

88

curious citizen 12.02.08 at 1:23 am

‘“caveman” is pejorative from the get’ – Roy Belmont

Roy, I don’t think Wittgenstein is using it as such. I think he means, simply those who lived before certain material changes, and before such changes were conceivable.

‘What helps disguise the real parameters of the debate is the illusion that species evolution doesn’t happen in “modern” humans. So the essence of what we are goes along unchanged through whatever conditions ensue from progress. ‘ – Roy Belmont

But isn’t this precisely the illusion that Wittgenstein is revealing? And so what Wittgenstein asks of ‘cavemen’ (or those that lived long before), we can ask of those yet to come – we took the sum of this or that to signal progress, but will it be experienced as such in the future? (It probably will be, but this isn’t certain, surely?)

89

notsneaky 12.02.08 at 2:13 am

“Listen to them jabber away. From how many lands have they come, to hunker here all day and talk nonsense? Pretty nonsense, to be sure, but nonsense nonetheless…” – Conan

90

roy belmont 12.02.08 at 2:42 am

88:
No. Me Wittgenstein friend. Wittgenstein say true thing me say true thing. Friend.
Moral absolute not exist. Only relative thing.
New guy like everything tidy own everything. All the time “Mine”.
Caveman like open sky clean water plenty game to eat. Share not own.
Other guy not so much. Like safe place to hide. Cover up world. Like easy easy. Kill all animals not eat. Turn cannibal quick things get plenty hard.
Progress for caveman not same. Progress for new guy not same.
Wittgenstein speak truth.

91

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 4:21 am

Whereupon, to continue the analogy, the prosecution shouts “Objection! Presumes facts not in evidence!”

You missed the part of the analogy where I’m in the jury, imagining that. Emerson’s analogy sucks anyway, because this is not a trial. We’re trying to piece together what really happened, in a situation decidedly fraught with politics and personalities and unverifiable claims. If we had a trial, we’d have statements under oath under penalty of perjury, document discovery, etc. (But also, inconveniently for Emerson’s case, the doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty.”)

Without the benefit of all that,you have to read what you can into it, and what I read sounds like humor. If you don’t read it that way, you’re tone-deaf to humor. Selectively tone-deaf perhaps, perhaps, but aren’t we all like that, at least a little bit? After all, I found myself laughing at roy belmont’s “Caveman Has Wittgenstein’s Back” riff just above, then noticed it was from roy belmont, and tried to make myself stop laughing because I don’t want roy belmont to be able to make me laugh, but then I kept laughing anyway. Sometimes, funny is funny in the same way red is red. If you’re sufficiently color-blind, red is brown. And I’ll never be able to explain “red” to you. Not much you can do about it, though I suppose you can always hope that in both cases the conmdition might caused by an old blood clot that could eventually be safely dissolved with some new ultrasound technique.

I’ll admit there’s a possible satirical wrinkle here that hadn’t occurred to me before, raised by Michael Kinsley’s WaPo op-ed defending the infamous Memo (Kinsley being hardly lacking in a sense of irony himself): maybe Lantz and Summers had been infighting with some environmentalist purist faction at the World Bank, maybe they’d been favoring certain investments even though they might give rise to development that didn’t meet First World environmental standards (which, not so many decades ago, weren’t all that great either), only to meet a rather hysterical line of criticism at the Bank. And maybe that’s what their obviously satirical comments were lampooning: how they were being badmouthed. In that case, we should all, naturally enough, pile on Paul Krugman too, for being similarly callous. (And of course, many did. Go far enough left and/or Green and you’ll still find people who call Krugman a right-wing corporate planet-raping running dog lackey of a fascist octopus about to sing its swan song.)

Well, they say it always ruins a joke to try to explain it, and the only thing that might be funny now is how people can be so blind to humor you can’t explain. And I’m bored with that. Can I just go? Oh, I see: I have to ask the judge to be excused from jury duty mid-trial. How about if I tell him it’s because of a severe allergy to kangaroo fur? (But what if he sniffs his armpit and says, “what kangaroo-fur allergy? I’m not getting any reaction at all! I don’t think there’s any such condition! Sit back down before I charge you with contempt of court!” Would that mean I have to stay and sit through this to the end?)

92

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 4:36 am

I object to having the defense attorney sitting on the jury.

Mr. Turner should acquaint himself with the real world. What sounded like humor to him sounded like Chicago School economics to me. It’s taken me years to realize, to my great chagrin, that those people really are serious and not only that, influential. I have a sense of humor about many things, but not Chicago School economics.

And again: before I’m willing to grant that the quote was out of context, I want to see the context. Is that unreasonable?) And then, if it was satire, was it satirizing the Chicago School, or hysterical environmentalists?

And I’m bored with that. Can I just go?

Yes! Yes! Please go! You’re a snotty, longwinded moron, and we’re much better off without you.

93

lemuel pitkin 12.02.08 at 5:42 am

Michael Turner,

How do you explain that this “obviously satirical” argument was accepted as essentially correct by several people (Slocum and Kaveh Hemmat) on this thread? And don’t you yourself, in your next to last paragraph (which turns Lant Pritchett into “Lantz”; not helpful to your credibility) agree with the basic thrust of the argument yourself?

Read the last paragraph of the excerpt again. The point of the memo is that if you believe in the conventional arguments for free trade and free capital movement, then Africa *is* vastly underpolluted. I think this argument is correct; if you disagree, you should explain why. And what do you think was Summers’s actual position on this question?

94

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 8:41 am

“How do you explain that this “obviously satirical” argument was accepted as essentially correct by several people (Slocum and Kaveh Hemmat) on this thread?”

If they thought Summers actually believed that Africa was “underpolluted”, I’d attribute it to irony impairments, but of the milder sort that can typically be treated on an outpatient basis. The patient has to really want to change, though.

A necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) condition for establishing “the point of the memo” is some agreement on what we mean by “the memo”. If Lant Pritchett’s (thanks for the spelling correction) story is true, then we have at least two memos: one that Lant Pritchett wrote, and a butchered version we saw. If the parts that seem so obviously satirical were added in the process of butchering, we have one situation. If there was more satire originally, and the more sober-sided parts were substituted as part of the butchering, that’s another situation. We really don’t know what happened. As far as I know, neither Pritchett nor Summers has identified the authors of specific passages. So, just working from what I can see:

(1) Some parts seem very obviously meant to be funny.
(2) Summers has taken managerial responsibility for whatever the original was.
(3) Pritchett has said it was intended as satire, but also that it surfaced in a corrupted form
(4) As far as I know, both men have a sense of humor.
(5) From personal experience, at least when it comes to issues around globalization and the environment, activists tend to be humorless and self-serious in the extreme, so much so as to be worthy targets of satire themselves.
(6) As far as I know, nobody at the World Bank stepped forward to dispute Summers and Pritchett’s version of the story, during the kerfuffle or afterward.

Weighing the evidence, I conclude that the whole thing was a joke that backfired on the two of them.

As for what I think Summers’ actual position was, I’ve already said: either he was facing a contingent of genuine pollution-exporters at the World Bank, or he was being attacked by their bureaucratic opponents for the relatively innocent argument that a little pollution isn’t such a big price to pay if the wealth that comes with it buys more food and health care. Most likely both, caught in the middle between scheming hypocrites and impractical ideologues. Then again, I happen to believe Lawrence Summers is an intelligent moderate who happens to rub people the wrong way by saying things that lots of people think but rarely say publicly.

By the way, what are the precise charges against Summers here? It’s in the nature of a kangaroo court to jump around, bounding over due process, and from one charge to another as convenient. If the charge is “Lawrence Summers has gotten himself very disliked,” let me shout “GUILTY!” as loudly as my kangaroo-fur-allergy-inflamed breathing passages permit, so I can get the hell outa here. Likewise if the charge is “Lawrence Summers seems to believe that a little pollution is not a bad price to pay for the benefits of industrial development,” but in that case, you might as well convict me while you’re at it. If the charge is “Lawrence Summers actually believes everything in that memo,” well, that kangaroo fur is really getting to me now. Or maybe it’s the odor of incinerated paper mache effigies clinging to the prosecution’s clothes.

“Vastly under-polluted”? “vastly Under-polluted”?! You actually think that could be serious? Wow, I suppose if you could lay your hands on some purported Memo from Larry describing toxic dumping in the developing world as “under-genocidal”, you’d be saying, “yup, that’s our Larry, right in character.”

95

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 10:06 am

What sounded like humor to him sounded like Chicago School economics to me.

I searched on “under-polluted” in Google Scholar, hoping to assemble a list of Chicago School economists who have addressed the vast and growing problem of under-pollution and how it might be mitigated. Perhaps someone had even written a dissertation on the idea of paying developing countries to increase emissions of common industrial-society pollutants, to help stimulate economic growth.

Oddly, nothing came back, in any area of study. Why, you’d think “under-pollution” wasn’t even a word, when it’s obviously an important concept that has dominated neoliberal and Republican thinking on development for decades.

Should I report this to Google as a bug? On second, thought, no. After all, google.org was often characterized as “the Clinton administration in exile,” and the Obama administration is “center-right”, which is code for “Larry calls the shots around here.” So obviously, Google Scholar is just covering Larry’s ass. The depth of the perfidy seems astonishing, but we in the One True Left have long known what kind of people we’re dealing with.

I’m going to try “under-genocidal” now. But only because (as Google says) I’m feeling lucky.

96

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 12:56 pm

Michael, didn’t you promise us you were leaving?

Before I respond to your Google test, could you tell me if it’s intended as satire or intended seriously?

Summers is accused of being an arrogant free-marketer who is somewhat indifferent to environmental concerns. This is a familiar type. As I said, I’d be willing to consider the possibility that the quote was out of context if I saw the context. My original statement was meant as a request for a link to the whole memo, but apparently the exculpatory evidence is of the “trust me” kind. The links you offered just repeated “trust me” three different times.

You’ve asserted several times that the passage is obviously satirical, but a lot of the Chicago School stuff seems satirical at first, and they love shocking people and being snarky, as Summers was here. (At one point one of them was arguing that cigarette smoking is a good thing, since the savings in pensions paid to retirees outweighed the increased medical costs). If the passage were a satire on both the Chicago School polluters and the humorless environmentalists, that would be consistent with Summers’ belief that he’s smarter than everyone else in the world (a common belief economists have about themselves), but it wouldn’t be very good satire since it’s indistinguishable from actual Chicago School beliefs (which is why several people have agreed with it).

97

Dave 12.02.08 at 1:45 pm

Surely the very best satire is almost indistinguishable from reality? Otherwise it slides towards crude parody, which nobody would mistake for reality – except in the Bush White House, of course, where it is reality that is all-too-easy to mistake for crude parody…

98

lemuel pitkin 12.02.08 at 1:46 pm

If they thought Summers actually believed that Africa was “underpolluted”, I’d attribute it to irony impairments, but of the milder sort that can typically be treated on an outpatient basis. The patient has to really want to change, though.

You are a real asshole, you know that?

99

ScentOfViolets 12.02.08 at 2:10 pm

If we had a trial, we’d have statements under oath under penalty of perjury, document discovery, etc. (But also, inconveniently for Emerson’s case, the doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty.”)

No, it’s inconvenient for your case. We have the redacted memo. Looks pretty guilty to me. You claim that it’s taken out of context. Fine. That means the burden of proof is on you to prove that it is, not on others to prove that it isn’t. To continue the analogy, it’s as if we have Summers standing over the body with a smoking gun in his hand and claiming that it’s not what it looks like, that there’s a perfectly plausible reason for his actions. Well then, it is up to the defense to prove this is the case, not on the the prosecutor to prove that there isn’t a perfectly good, perfectly innocent, perfectly reasonable explanation for why Summers is caught in such an incriminating pose.

And I think this goes to the crux of the matter, Michael. Against all good practices, you want to say the burden of proof flows in such a way that it is contrary to accepted scientific (and legal) procedure. To a lot of people here, it looks as if you are playing the ‘if you can’t make me say I’m wrong I win’ game[1]. To steadfastly claim at this point that you don’t owe anyone an explanation strikes this juror as pose of a poor loser.

[1]You’ve never, for example, given indication of what you would accept as proof that Summers’ statement was not taken out of context. Again, this is considered bad practice.

100

Dave 12.02.08 at 2:26 pm

Actually, in a criminal trial, I think the burden of proof always falls on the prosecution. The defence is not obliged to offer any evidence. A smoking gun merely makes the prosecution’s job simple, it doesn’t abolish it. I would also point out that one person’s obvious irony is another’s admission of guilt: “Well, of course I shot him! Why do you think I’m standing here with a gun?” – the ironist leaving unspoken the statement “instead of getting the hell out of here, of course I wait around to be incriminated, because I’m just stupid, aren’t I?”

BTW, you do all realise that this discussion is perfectly, preternaturally, sublimely and absurdly pointless, don’t you?

101

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 3:13 pm

Pointlessness? On the internet? That’s not possible.

If the defense offers exculpatory evidence, it’s required to show it, not just allege that it exists.

102

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 3:40 pm

We have the redacted memo. Looks pretty guilty to me.

OK, let’s agree, then: the memo is guilty as charged. Of whatever you charged it with. I’ll charge it with being out of context, if that’ll make you happy. Oh wait, you’ve made it clear that it doesn’t. OK, I’ll go further: it was so far out of context that it crossed state lines, so whatever offenses it committed must be Federal offenses. Not enough? OK, it was so far out of context that it left the country and renounced its citizenship. But then it flew back into the United States and into this blog discussion, wrecking things, on purpose. So we can call it an Enemy Combatant Memo and send it to Guantanamo and redact it over and over, in stress positions, and with Fugazi playing over the PA, cranked up to 10, on heavy rotation.

I bet you’re really happy now.

The problem is, though, Guantanamo will be closed soon, and we’d like to release the memo, but no country will accept it, because they say it’s — wait for it — yes, toxic waste. Talk about your ironies!

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ScentOfViolets 12.02.08 at 4:19 pm

So, I guess that’s your tacit admission that you’ve got nothing, Michael. I myself am much more graceful when I have to say something similar, but apparently, it’s your way to just be as poor a loser as possible. Oh, well.

Dave 12.02.08 at 2:26 pm

Actually, in a criminal trial, I think the burden of proof always falls on the prosecution.

Well, yes Dave, these accusations aren’t coming out of a vacuum. We have the memo. As I said, that memo looks like pretty good evidence of guilt. If there’s no further evidence offered, I’d vote to convict. Do you have such evidence?

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 3:13 pm

Pointlessness? On the internet? That’s not possible.

If the defense offers exculpatory evidence, it’s required to show it, not just allege that it exists.

Exactly right. If you want to say that these remarks were offered ‘out of context’, you’ve got to come with with proof that this is the case, not merely allege that they were, in fact, taken out of context.

This isn’t rocket science.

104

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 4:27 pm

If we take turns on Michael we can probably get a thousand posts out of him.

Michael do you have some kind of attachment to Summers? I don’t mean necessarily in a lewd or inappropriate sense, just any kind of personal connection?

105

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 5:22 pm

My “personal” attachment to Larry Summers? As if. I have an attachment to Big Funny. “Vastly under-polluted” is a Big Funny in my book. You can’t see the humor, John, but it seems (unless you were playing with me just then) that you couldn’t tell that my “Google test” post was a joke either.

ScentOfViolets: you might try looking up burden of proof. Handy link there, found it searching the Intertoobz with this Gurgle thing. Note that, if what Summers is guilty of is somehow criminal, the prosecution must establish the charges “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I’d say it’s more like a civil case if it’s actionable at all (wasting taxpayers money writing weird memos? You tell me, I can’t get the charges straight). So that would require the prosecution to provide “preponderance of evidence” in favor of conviction, a weaker standard, but still on the prosecution, not the defense. Your problem in that case, though, is proving that Larry Summers never thought the memo was funny. Lie detector? PET scan?

BTW, where did I write that the memo was “out of context”. My initial reaction was entirely in context: I saw, I laughed. I was actually surprised to learn that anyone took it seriously, so if there’s any “context” to look at here, it’s whether Summers has a more-or-less functioning sense of humor. For some reason, Manmohan Singh thought Summers was a pretty funny guy, or at least was willing to say so:

“I have known Larry since his days in the World Bank and have always been impressed by his mastery over his subject, and his quicksilver intelligence. My interactions with Larry – in any capacity – have always been marked by warmth and cordiality. These interactions have remained particularly memorable as a result of his sharp wit and sense of humor.” – Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India

So I guess you’ll have to subpoena PM Singh and give him a lie detector test, too. Diplomatically tricky, since he’s still a head of state. This has all the makings of a high-profile landmark case, doesn’t it? Go to it, guys. Prepping it could be a lot of work, but think of the exhilaration you’ll feel when it first goes into pre-trial proceedings, and the judge grins broadly, and says something like, “Oh, this is special. Very special. You guys did this yourselves, eh? Nice. Yes, taking this to trial would be an excellent use of taxpayers’ dollars. Positively exemplary.”

106

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 5:36 pm

As I said, I used to think that things economists say are funny, but I found that in many cases they are shockingly serious, and in other cases their humor is rightwing meanmindedness and callousess. So I quit laughing. Probably you shouldn’t mess with economics.

We didn’t get your joke so we have no sense of humor? In comedy circles what you’re doing is called dying.

No, the context here (Why the scare quotes?) is the rest of the memo, not Summers’ sense of humor. It’s been claimed that Summers was quoted out of context.

107

dsquared 12.02.08 at 5:58 pm

I don’t really understand the argument here really. If one’s arguing that Summers/Pritchett were “being ironic”, then what do they really think?

1. Is the assertion that Summers/Pritchett don’t believe that the average wage rate is a proper basis for estimating the value of a life for purposes of cost/benefit analysis of pollution? If Summers didn’t believe this then he did a poor job of stamping it out at the World Bank – here it is, for example showing up in 1999 in a working paper on valuing mortality reductions in India.

2. Is it that Summers in fact believes that the costs of pollution are linear (rather than non-linear) or that they do not have high income elasticity? Again I don’t think so.

3. More likely perhaps, the irony comes in with the paragraph “The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization”. Which appears to be what Pritchett actually says the context was – a paper by Pritchett arguing that World Bank liberalization proposals and the economics underlying them don’t actually benefit the poor in important ways.

But, although Summers allowed this memo to be circulated (on the charitable interpretation), he didn’t, in fact, stop being a very vocal advocate of WB proposals for liberalization. So in nearly all other contexts, he did not believe that arguments based on “intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc” were convincing objections to Washington Consensus economics. So why would we assume that he thought differently in the pollution case?

I suspect that all that MT is trying to establish is that Summers wouldn’t intentionally have been rude to the LDCs to their face. But that’s hardly what John and SoV are annoyed about, is it?

“Irony”, in one of the many non-Alanis Morissette definitions, is when a character’s actions achieve their intended effect, but with a contrary result. There are many levels of irony here, but it looks like a Kinsley gaffe on Summers’ part.

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roy belmont 12.02.08 at 6:07 pm

“Vastly under-polluted” is like, close to, but not exactly parallel with, “Why are there no black astronauts?”
Callous indifference to suffering exposited in tight wit is a badge of masculinity in some circles, on display from middle school cafeterias to conference rooms in big city hotels.
The quote itself may be out of context, but the context in which it’s out of context is such that it’s not possible to make humor of it without revealing that callous indifference.
Which is what makes it objectionable.
Trying to use the Prime Minister of India’s fondness for good ol’ boy Larry Summers, gained at the fucking World Bank of all places, to rebut accusations of calloused indifference to the suffering of the poor, is loopy in the extreme.

109

lemuel pitkin 12.02.08 at 6:18 pm

107 is where I was trying to get to before I lost my cool.

110

Dave 12.02.08 at 6:50 pm

@108: But Roy, if we weren’t all callously indifferent to the suffering of the poor, we would already have given them all our money, and probably gone out and knifed a banker just to make sure. The depth and intensity with which the global poor are screwed is such that mere self-righteousness in the face of it cannot possibly be enough, unless you have hardened your heart to it. For that suffering continues, even now. Somewhere a mother is screaming in grief for her dead child, somewhere else another mother is too weak to mourn. This goes on, every second, every hour, every day. And we say rude things to each other on blogs. We’re all callously indifferent. If we weren’t, we’d go mad.

111

roger 12.02.08 at 6:57 pm

Michael Turner is wasting his ideas here – he needs to take them to the Bush Library! They could use an official ironist. In fact, Bush is well known for having a sharp wit and a fine sense of humor. The irony defense would be a perfect fit. The claim that Iraq had WMD – irony. The refusal to seriously try to take Osama bin Laden out at Tora Bora – irony. The seeming complacency about the reconstruction of the AQ and Taliban network – total irony. This was the romantic irony kind of irony – bittersweet laughter. The deadly rush to either deregulate or render regulatory agencies null and void – irony. One of Bush’s most ironic gestures has to be the appointment of Norris Alderson, a specialist in animal husbandry, to the post of head of the Office of Women’s Health in the FDA. That’ s the kind of thing that would make an Indian Prime Minister bust a gut laughing, but those wet blankets out there, totally without a sense of humor, get all scandalized and shit.

I love this irony defense – I think it will go far. Perhaps McCain can use it in his memoirs to explain the Palin pick?

112

roy belmont 12.02.08 at 7:07 pm

If we weren’t, we’d go mad.
I’m not agreeing with this, but what happens then?
Without the armour of calloused indifference we go mad, and then what?
We make bad decisions?
We stop having fun?
Maybe we’re already mad?
Raised by it and in it and having the responsibility to get back from it to what sanity might still be available.

113

notsneaky 12.02.08 at 7:07 pm

Oh, by Crom! Every parody has to have a grain of truth in it, the one here being that imposing rich country environmental standards on poor countries is generally a bad idea. Which is what Slocum was arguing, but that doesn’t change the fact that one can take that grain of truth, go extreme with it and start talking about “vastly under polluted” as a joke in a “Bwahahaha Look at us being Teh Evil Economists!” kind of way. In other words, the memo is not a parody of what some economists think but rather a parody of what people like Emerson think that economists think (which is what Michael has been saying, and what Emerson has provided plenty of evidence for, here and on other threads, Mitra bless his dirty heart). And Daniel’s wrong here too. What the phrase “The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization”.” is saying is:
‘look, if we the World Bank has a right to shove environmental regulations down the throats of LDCs that they might not want themselves, wouldn’t we also have a right to ask these LDCs to lower their tariffs? Isn’t this what anti-globalizers always complain about?’
As to the stuff about non-linear costs, come on, that’s just throwing in some jargon and faux-theory to make it sound legit – which is what you want with a parody.
But by the dark Gods of my race, on this one, like much else, all are gonna believe what they want to believe and the discussion is pointless.

114

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 7:17 pm

Ooh, looks like I have to surrender. I found this great quote from an esteemed economist who lots of smart people have said is very smart. After a few remarks on how Summers helped people appreciate the value of markets for various purposes ordinarily left to government, this economist goes on to say:

“Where I would still very much part company with Summers is in believing that while market outcomes may be efficient, they may be profoundly unfair, and there’s a need for government to do things to redress the balance—and in believing that a market system can only work within a broader legal framework that only government can establish.”

Except for one thing: substitute “[Milton] Friedman” for “Summers” in the above, and it’s something Larry Summers himself said a few months ago.

115

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 7:49 pm

Dave @ 108: Does it count as half-credit if I just knife a banker, without giving all my money to the poor? I feel very bad for poor people in poor countries, but I’m not ready to do anything drastic yet.

OK, seriously (no, really, I’m seriously serious): not long ago, there was a post on CT about OCLC, a library catalogue database service, tightening up their intellectual property claims a little, somewhat stealthily, too. Remember that?

I saw this as a non-issue compared to, say, a major humanitarian disaster still unfolding in Somalia, and I said so. Yeah, Somalia had an authoritarian Islamic regime centered in Mogadishu, but really not much more authoritarian in legal spirit than Saudi Arabia (our “ally” doncha know) and because of Somalian culture, less authoritarian in actual effect. The U.S. supported, to some degree sponsored, and (in providing a little air support when Ethiopian troops had the government forces bottled up in the south) actually fought in unseating this government, which had been providing the first respite of stability many Somalians had ever known.

Of course, we weren’t very popular with those Somalians before, but now they really think we suck. And the supposed casus belli was anti-terrorism, in part because this government had supported the claims of some ethnic somalis in Ethiopia (IIRC, anyway). Now, weren’t there better ways to resolve this?

Obama has since announced Susan Rice as his pick for UN ambassador. Susan Rice visited Rwanda not long after the genocide there, and says she vowed never again; she said she would fall on her sword to prevent anything like that happening again. Somalia is a huge humanitarian emergency, and the U.S. is basically complicit in it. Clearly, this has to be on her plate. But is she up to it?

I think the way forward here is very clear: we should circulate a petition demanding that the Susan Rice not serve in Obama administration unless she denounces Larry Summers for something he didn’t even write over 15 years ago, and furthermore demand that Susan Rice require of Obama that he reverse his choice of Summers. Because only in that way can we have any confidence that Susan Rice a truthful person, with real integrity, and overwhelmingly concerned with justice. Somalians deserve no less, and I’m sure they’ll be willing to wait as long as it takes. In the meantime, we can send paper mache effigies to Somalian refugee camps, so they can at least have the satisfaction of burning Larry in effigy. Later, we can send them Larry.

OK, I lied about the “seriously serious” part. As the scorpion said to the frog: it’s my nature.

116

Barry 12.02.08 at 8:22 pm

MT: “In that case, we should all, naturally enough, pile on Paul Krugman too, for being similarly callous. (And of course, many did. Go far enough left and/or Green and you’ll still find people who call Krugman a right-wing corporate planet-raping running dog lackey of a fascist octopus about to sing its swan song.)”

Just in case the mid-1990’s are lost in the dim mists of memory, Krugman was not very popular with the left (or liberals) back then, and ‘center-right’ was a reasonable description.
There’s a comment by him (from memory; I tried to ‘look it up’, but couldn’t find it) that he regrets the time he spent bashing liberals and leftists back then, while Sauron was getting the ring (meaning while the GOP, the *big* bad guys, were getting power). What changed was that the GOP went even more apesh*t than in the 1980’s, and Krugman did a Keynes and allowed facts to change his mind.

117

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 8:29 pm

I’ve only claimed that Chicago school economists think and talk that way, and they do. Someone might have noted that Summers is not a Chicago School economist, but someone seemed to want to rely entirely on intuition, assertions, and insults instead.

I also noted that the best way to convince people that you’ve been quoted out of context is to show the context, and that for whatever reason this was not done. Another way is to say in so many words that you didn’t really mean what you said and were speaking as a devil’s advocate, but as far as I know Summers didn’t do that, though his flunky did.

And while it may be true that non-Chicago-school economists do not talk like that except when joking, it also true that dumping toxins on poor people is a common practice even within the US., and especially internationally. Summers’ little joke functions pretty well as the justification of policies which are actual. In general it’s not a good idea to jokingly propose doing something objectionable that’s already being done; the irony, humor and paradox tend to be missed.

Someone above pointed out that people affected by public policies don’t always enjoy the humor, snark, and cheerfulness with which the policy-makers talk among themselves. I’m not tactful either, but then I’m not a policymaker in the public eye.

Policymakers in third world countries are often only minimally concerned about what the general populace wants. (Mobutu anyone?) So you can say “force strict environmental standards on third world countries” but you can also say “Bribe a dictator so you can lay waste to his country while he parties on the French Riviera.

So no, not much sense of humor here. The audience which would appreciate Summers’ joke is quite a restricted one, I think.

118

John Emerson 12.02.08 at 8:57 pm

Krugman and DeLong seem to have started to notice labor a little bit in recent years. “Gee whiz, the economy is booming and wages are flat! The economy is booming and unemployment isn’t going down! How could that possibly be?”

119

Michael Turner 12.03.08 at 4:45 am

It’s disgusting, of course, that there are Chicago School economists who favor smoking for supposed net social cost-benefit, when all medical and pension costs are accounted for. Why can’t we have more voices in public health and tobacco policy, like the author who wrote the following?

Does this [regulatory] concern over [cigarette tobacco] additives make sense from the standpoint of risk policy? In terms of the overall risk, concern over additive is akin to asking whether the car that ran you over also had lead paint on it. Cigarette smoking is a tremendously risky activity even for cigarettes without flavor enhancers or other artificial additives. The states’ disclosure efforts are misdirected. The warnings effort should focus consumer attention on the overall product riskiness . . . .

Oh, wait, that’s Kip Viscusi, the very (supposed) Chicago School economist John Emerson was talking about. Of course, Viscusi does in fact take research funding from tobacco companies, but his research and his book raise some troubling questions. When a government has “sin taxes” on risky behavior, it can gain points with the public by pointing to public health benefits from discouraging consumption of the problematic product, but there’s also a moral hazard — for government. If, in fact, a smoker’s risk of early death is actually a net bonus for society as a whole (and I don’t think anyone has proved Viscusi wrong on this point), government has a financial incentive to keep raising taxes to smokers only up to the point where the financial benefits diminish or even reverse. Are we even there yet? Viscusi argues that the way litigation has been settled so far obscures the cost-benefit issues.

I live in a country where there’s a government enterprise — Japan Tobacco — sitting astride the industry. There’s a much bigger problem with smoking here. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Japan Tobacco analysts worked out, long ago, what Viscusi has concluded. Now, Japan is anything but “Chicago School”. It has relied on (rather low-quality) Keynesian stimulus to get through its long slump, and is quite a bit more socialist in most ways than the U.S. Imagine a government tobacco monopoly in the U.S. Imagine even suggesting such a thing! Public health policy on tobacco here is perhaps 10-15 years behind the U.S., though catching up. I haven’t asked yet, but I suppose if I did, the average person here, upon hearing that smokers might actually (on average) be subsidizing public health and welfare for everyone else, would probably shrug and say, “Well, if true, would that be so bad?”

Now, you might disagree with some things here, especially where it’s my speculation alone, but ask yourself: Did you learn anything? If you read with any attention, you did. Now ask yourself: when John Emerson posts on this thread, what do you learn except what his vague memory was of reading some economist (or more likely, some tendentious commentary on some economist) that he actually knows next to nothing about? Can he actually believe, for example, that Paul Krugman has just recently woken up and noticed labor? Does it occur to him to, say, go look at Krugman’s earlier titles for the layman and see how often labor is mentioned? (Pervasively, in some work.) Can he actually believe, for example, that Larry Summers is a Chicago School economist? What rock would have to have been sleeping under for two decades to think that? When does Emerson ever offer up a quote, a link to a resource, or do much of anything except grump about how nobody has handed him the memo he requires to prove someone innocent or guilty, on the presumption that this person is guilty until the memo surfaces?

120

dsquared 12.03.08 at 11:50 am

What the phrase “The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization”.” is saying is:
‘look, if we the World Bank has a right to shove environmental regulations down the throats of LDCs that they might not want themselves, wouldn’t we also have a right to ask these LDCs to lower their tariffs? Isn’t this what anti-globalizers always complain about?’

Radek, you seem to be working here from the premis that the World Bank’s intervention in LDC environmental policies in 1991 was generally in the direction of “forcing developed country standards” on them. This wasn’t true. In a lot of cases, the World Bank actually was attempting to encourage LDCs to become more polluted or to carry out environmental despoliation (when the only tool you have is a hydroelectricity lending project, the whole world begins to look like a picturesque valley which is a luxury that regrettably can’t be afforded), and for roughly the reasons outlined in this memo.

Summers went on to work in the Clinton administration and had a lot of involvement with good old Chapter 11 of NAFTA; it was while he was Deputy Secretary that the infamous Metalclad case came to tribunal (Metalclad sued the Mexican government for enforcing local anti-pollution regulations on a toxic waste plant that Metalclad had bought, claiming that this was an “expropriation” under NAFTA).

121

Michael Turner 12.03.08 at 3:01 pm

OK, dsquared, let’ s say you were an editor at an environmentalist journal and commissioned me to write a piece on World Bank policy disasters. What you got back was passable from your POV, but went a little over the space limit. You trimmed some my words. Let’s say the edit looked like this:

The World Bank finances a good many efforts that have failed in their development objectives, such as encouraging the building of huge hydroelectric projects which deliver very little benefit and do much harm, because they cause environmental pollution, despoliation of scenic resources, and worst of all, dislocation of populations by flooding their localities, all rationalized on the theory that such efforts enhance economic growth.

Now, let’s say I happen to get a look at the copy before you go to press, and protest: “That’s not what I meant! I hate the World Bank, but the way you have it, it looks like some weird parody of what you’d find in some wacko anti-globalist anarchist ‘zine put out by the kind of people who go visit Ted Kaczinski in prison. And for all I know, even Ted still has enough marbles to look at an edit like that and say ‘Uh, hey, don’t get me wrong, I had a red thumbtack on my U.S. map for the World Bank’s headquarters, I just never got around to them, but . . . this doesn’ t actually make a whole lot of sense.'”

From your last post, I get the impression that you’d think such an edit would be acceptable. Have I missed something? If you do think it acceptable, how would go about defending it to the editor-in-chief, if I as the writer could somehow take it to that level?

If it matters: the unedited sentence is the kind of thing I’ve written myself. These days, I might go look at exceptions, but would mention them in writing only for balance and credibility with the reader.

122

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 3:11 pm

Michael, you tend to rely on hypothetical scenarios a lot. Have you studied trolley-car philosophy?

123

dsquared 12.03.08 at 3:14 pm

Michael, your #120 doesn’t really address any points about Larry Summers or the World Bank, and is just a sort of “I get the impression that you think xxxxx” post, which experience has taught me is usually preliminary to a fishing expedition where you see if you can catch me in an unguarded remark (how ironic, in context, hahaha) and then flog it to death. Maybe you didn’t intend this, but that’s how it looks and so I’m not really going to respond, sorry if this seems rude.

124

ScentOfViolets 12.03.08 at 3:32 pm

dsquared 12.02.08 at 5:58 pm

I suspect that all that MT is trying to establish is that Summers wouldn’t intentionally have been rude to the LDCs to their face. But that’s hardly what John and SoV are annoyed about, is it?

I’m hardly annoyed at Michael; I’m amused by his attempts to get out of the hole he’s in by digging deeper. It’s as if he’s showing us all that he really did mean to hit his thumb while hammering away, and to prove it, he’s going to hit his thumb again.

It’s not as if he’s wasting any effort trying to be convincing, after all. He’s not saying what it will take to disprove his hypothesis, and he’s doing little more than stamping his foot and claiming that he’s right, and all those other people – including several here who took the proposals in the memo to be serious – are just small-caliber poopy-heads who don’t have his fine sense of irony.

I’d say that at this point it’s pretty clear he’s just saying that if no one can make say he’s wrong he wins. And he’s more than willing to continue this until he has the last word.

125

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 3:40 pm

I say, let’s bump him up to a thousand. 875 to go.

126

Michael Turner 12.03.08 at 4:29 pm

Emerson changes the subject. Bye, John.

dsquared pretends not to see in my last post a pretty obvious connection to the World Bank memo issue, after clearly implying it’s OK to make a hash of the World Bank’s actual positions and then support what you said by gesturing only vaguely at a document that nobody recognizes as having any official standing at the World Bank.

Then he throws in some vague guilt-by-association reasoning and Summers is somehow responsible for a Mexican toxic waste dump that was a serious environmental problem before the land was bought by Metalclad. A dump that that Metalclad agreed to clean up first as a condition of using the land (as far as I can tell, they wanted to operate an incinerator, not a waste dump, but I’m not going to read every word of the case). But then Metalclad never even got to use the land they bought because of incoherent and shifting policy between Mexico’s local and federal levels — hence their lawsuit.

Metalclad: a bunch of jerks? Very likely. Toxic waste dumps: problematic? Definitely. Therefore we should suspend any principle of equality under the law? Oh right. And let’s smear some blame all over Larry Summers while we’re at it.

Actually, if Summers contributed at all to Chapter 11 of NAFTA (or more specifically it’s ambiguous “expropriation” language), I haven’t been able to find evidence of that. I’m having no trouble at all, though, finding out about his role in bailing out Mexico when the peso crashed — that was practically his idea. Somehow, though, that’s irrelevant. He hates the LDCs and wants to pour toxic waste all over children in those countries. Nasty, nasty Larry.

OK. Rank intellectual dishonesty, justified (I imagine) by purer intentions than I obviously could ever have. What else is new?

Done with you both.

Anybody else?

127

Michael Turner 12.03.08 at 4:37 pm

ScentOfViolets posts while I was writing that.

I’m amused by his attempts to get out of the hole he’s in by digging deeper.

Me, in a hole? While ScentOfViolets doesn’t admit to getting the assignment of burden of proof wrong? Oh no, that’s no hole. It never happened. ScentOfViolets steps right over it, it passes out of the field of vision, it no longer exists, it never did.

I haven’t said what it takes to disprove my hypothesis? Yes I have: you put Larry on the best polygraph you can find and ask him: “When you read that bit about certain places being ‘vastly UNDER-polluted’, did you think it was funny? Did you think the memo in any way represented serious policy discussion at the World Bank?” Then you can ask him why. I’d accept the results.

Remember: you’re the prosecution. Burden of proof is on you.

128

roy belmont 12.03.08 at 5:09 pm

Michael Turner 11.23.08 at 11:23 am
http://tinyurl.com/5p57ja :
“Well, Roy, if you’d show up here with a sense of humor once in a while, you might notice that I’m almost always…”

Michael Turner 12.02.08 at 4:21 am
http://tiny.cc/EHKC5:
“After all, I found myself laughing at roy belmont’s “Caveman Has Wittgenstein’s Back” riff just above, then noticed it was from roy belmont, and tried to make myself stop laughing because I don’t want roy belmont to be able to make me laugh, but then I kept laughing anyway…”

I did that. Me.
Unaided by anyone from the CT Pantheon nor by John Emerson nor Seth Edenbaum nor even Donald Johnson and nor, especially nor, that Bubba individual.
What it was I did there, what it is I think I did there, and as well what it is Mr. Turner might think I did there, shall must needs remain elusive at this time.
But say this, if compelled to say something, that I did it following the now avoidable long-vanished example of Chun, and that I did it to uphold in my own small way the pennant, the banner, the unsanctioned flag, the obscure standard once carried forward in these pages, such as they are, by that predictable but elliptical, inconsistently leftish but not radical exactly, not particularly amusing but hey, demi-bourgeois troll of Zurich, or was it Geneva, the unmourned but glaringly absent except, possibly, pseudonymously now and then, abb1.

129

dsquared 12.03.08 at 5:20 pm

Michael, you’re not coming across as terribly coherent here. As Radek said, it’s actually quite orthodox economics to suggest that LDCs ought to have lower standards of environmental regulation than developed countries, so why are you so quixotically determined to prove that Larry Summers didn’t also believe this in 1999, particularly when his career throws up so many examples of him and the institutions he worked for making precisely this tradeoff (environmental despoliation for economic growth)? And what on earth does the 1994 peso crisis have to do with this? Frankly, this constant raising of oddball hypotheticals, unrelated issues and constant impugning of other people’s motives is going to bite into your own doubtless impeccable reputation for intellectual honesty, sooner or later.

I think you really need to face up (as Radek has) to the fact that the orthodox economic position on enviromental protections in LDCs is
a) accurately summarised in the infamous memo,
b) as a result of a), almost certainly believed by Larry Summers at the time of writing, and
c) politically, very unpopular indeed.

and that because of c), the World Bank didn’t want to state this as its official policy, let alone to do so publicly and in such stark language. But the only sense in which the memo could have been regarded as “ironic” is that it was an in-joke between members of a crowd, where the author was trying to achieve a sort of shocking effect by saying out loud something which everyone had tacitly agreed not to mention.

At the moment, you seem to be trying to claim that Summers didn’t believe this – or rather, you’re just trying to randomly say nice things about Summers and blow a lot of smoke around in the hope that everyone will stop noticing.

130

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 5:28 pm

Apparently Michael is defensive about his involvement in trolley-car philosophy.

131

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 5:29 pm

Where is Chun, anyway? He showed up briefly somewhere once.

132

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 5:42 pm

132

133

Colin Danby 12.03.08 at 6:09 pm

Ditto 129. The memo’s author enjoys annoying people, but that’s Summers. The content is too deeply enmeshed in orthodox economic theory to be satire.

134

dsquared 12.03.08 at 6:15 pm

erratum – in 129 above, “in 1999” should be “in 1991”, obviously.

135

dsquared 12.03.08 at 6:27 pm

I mean, for example, PJ O’Rourke writes:

Man developed in Africa. He has not continued to do so there

and it’s satire. But it’s also a fairly accurate summary of PJ O’Rourke’s views about Africa. And if you happened to be someone who thought that PJ O’Rourke was an asshole because of views like those, then being told “ooooh it’s satire, don’t you recognise satire, idiot” isn’t really going to convince you that PJ O’Rourke is a good guy after all.

136

Robert 12.03.08 at 6:40 pm

Did you know that recycling is harmful to the environment? “Thus, significant recycling of paper involves fewer trees in existence, not more, which was the announced goal.” — Michael R. Darby, “Paper Recycling and the Stocks of Trees”, _Journal of Political Economy_, V. 81, N. 5 (Sep. Oct. 1973): 1253-1255.

It certainly is difficult to distinguish irony from the statements of orthodox economists that they actually believe.

137

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 6:55 pm

137.
Where’s Michael?

138

lemuel pitkin 12.03.08 at 7:46 pm

Where’s Michael?

He’s off explaining to Berube that his son is actually a Neanderthal.

139

roger 12.03.08 at 7:57 pm

I’m not sure what Michael’s hypothesis is about Summers’ memo anymore. Is it:
a. funny because it is untrue to Summers’ real opinion
or b. funny because it is so true of those crazy environmentalists that they’d think this is the kind of bad thing we’d think!

Both of which can be ironic in their own ways. The irony defense loses by winning and wins by losing.

140

John Emerson 12.03.08 at 8:02 pm

140!

Of all people, economists should not exaggerate their own views for comic effect.

141

Colin Danby 12.03.08 at 9:19 pm

There’s a version of Poe’s law to be formulated here. We could call it Emerson’s Law.

142

engels 12.03.08 at 10:52 pm

On the question of Summers’ intelligence, I am inclined to the view that it is somewhat overrated, for reasons understood by the great psychometrist Tim Rice:

Not only is he tactless but he’s also rather dim,
For there’s eleven of us and there’s only one of him

143

notsneaky 12.04.08 at 12:12 am

“you seem to be working here from the premis that the World Bank’s intervention in LDC environmental policies in 1991 was generally in the direction of “forcing developed country standards” on them. ”

No, I’m working from the premise that there were people at the time who thought that “forcing developed country standards” on LDC’s WAS the World Bank’s job and that the memo can be seen as a reply to those people.

And while this is true:
“it’s actually quite orthodox economics to suggest that LDCs ought to have lower standards of environmental regulation than developed countries”

it’s not the same as
” face-ing up to the fact that the orthodox economic position on enviromental protections in LDCs is
a) accurately summarised in the infamous memo””

Orthodox theory would say that since in order to industrialize you’ll pretty much have to pollute (and if you don’t, then, hey, that’s great!) and that if there’s something like diminishing marginal utility of income (i.e. an extra dollar of income is worth a LOT to a very poor person) then trading off some environmental quality for more income in poorer countries – industrializing and developing – is worth it.

Actually, let me pause here and inquire if you agree with this idea – given that there really is a trade off between environmental quality and income at low level of development (you can’t have both), is there anything wrong with this statement?

Ok. Anyway, the memo says something else – in particular 1) and 2) and 3) in the memo are talking about something completely different, make different kind of (faux) “arguments”.

144

dsquared 12.04.08 at 12:27 am

No, I’m working from the premise that there were people at the time who thought that “forcing developed country standards” on LDC’s WAS the World Bank’s job and that the memo can be seen as a reply to those people

the great thing about this extract from a memo is that we can all make up our own context for it, so I’m not sure that this particular debate is going anywhere.

Actually, let me pause here and inquire if you agree with this idea

I can see both sides, but am of the opinion that since I don’t live in an LDC, it’s not really my business to have a strong opinion one way or t’other. If I worked for the World Bank I think I’d be quite strongly of the view that these tradeoffs were to be made by the democratically elected governments concerned rather than being imposed by external technocrats.

145

John Emerson 12.04.08 at 1:02 am

When talking about third world pollution, you at least need to exclude the worst-case plunder scenario (Mobutu). How many development economists are even able to do that? Even though few Congolese benefited much, I suspect that even during its worst days the Congolese economy was Kaldor-Hicks efficient.

146

Donald Johnson 12.04.08 at 1:06 am

From Roy’s first link in 128–
“Well, Roy, if you’d show up here with a sense of humor once in a while, you might notice that I’m almost always trying to be super silly by posing as someone overly convinced of his own superiority and importance. On the Web, you can’t hear anybody laugh, so I don’t know how I’m doing with that.”

Gotta give lots of points for self-awareness on that one. I’m envious, actually.

147

Michael Turner 12.04.08 at 2:34 am

Orthodox theory would say that since in order to industrialize you’ll pretty much have to pollute (and if you don’t, then, hey, that’s great!) and that if there’s something like diminishing marginal utility of income (i.e. an extra dollar of income is worth a LOT to a very poor person) then trading off some environmental quality for more income in poorer countries – industrializing and developing – is worth it.

Problem is, notsneaky, orthodox politics of a certain stripe says it’s OK to paint this as “orthodox theory is something you don’t need to know in much detail, because it’s just an elaborate rationalization for industrialists in developed world countries to poison LDC people instead of themselves.”

Actually, there’s more. In defense of poor people in LDCs against the ghastly deadly tide of globalization, it’s OK to

(1) never admit you were wrong when you were proven wrong,
(2) avoid obvious connections where it’s inconvenient to see them,
(3) lay stress on very strained connections where that’s convenient,
(4) wildly distort your opponents’ positions on other questions if that helps you make the ad hominem case.

As an example of how somebody just went after me with (4), in comments on Michael Berube’s exchange with Peter Singer, I mused (admittedly rather vaguely) in ways that I assumed would be construed as follows: (1) We’re direct descendants of cro-magnons. (2) Cro-magnons might have wiped out Neanderthals. (3) One could speculate (and many have) that we thrived and they are extinct for a not very flattering reason — that we have genocidal tendencies that they didn’t have. (4) The concentration of the mentally retarded in institutions, to the very likely detriment (at least for a while) of their health and welfare compared even to the previous laissez faire environment (brutal enough) might have both brought out and facilitated the expression of cro-magnon-rooted genocidal tendencies, in this case against a people who weren’t even a race in any sense. (5) The theories that Down syndrome people might be Neanderthal “throwbacks” could be considered a sort of romanticization of the long travails of an oppressed people, hardly a new narrative, in fact very derivative, but in this case with a scientific veneer that would be very appealing in a kind of science-fictional way. If anything, Dr. Down might be considered a kind of mythic hero or Moses figure for this notional “people”, even though he pointed to the expression of “mongoloid” and “ethiope” facial features in DS children of a variety of races to argue in favor of the idea that racial differences must actually be very superficial, and against a common argument of the time that the human race was not really one family.

Anyway, that’s a direction or thread of the discussion that I thought might develop.

But lemuel sarcastically pounds this down into: “[Michael’s] off explaining to Berube that his son is actually a Neanderthal.”

Why? Because I’m evil and/or stupid, and by hardly more than mere association with the evil and/or stupid Larry Summers.

Need an example of (2)? I believe if you asked Summers what he thought his most important contribution to LDC public health was, he’d at least considering answering: “Successfully arguing for bailing out Mexico after the peso crash, and helping to get it through against public opposition.” Why? As he argued (with Lance Pritchett) while at the World Bank, income is the dominant factor in health, it can’t be explained as little more than “healthier workers make more money.” Bailing out Mexico might have saved hundreds of thousands of Mexican lives by keeping its economy from crashing seriously.

But dsquared says I’m just picking random nice things to say about Larry Summers, as if incomes had no possible relation to public health, which is, after all, most of what we’re concerned with when we concern ourselves with toxic dumping in LDCs, isn’t it? (Or did I miss a whole Singer-esque point here, that Summers is guilty of valuing homo sapiens over other species? Of supporting an “impeccable” economic logic that’s actually flawed because it’s species-ist?)

Anyway, notsneaky, I’m gonna go out and get run over by a trolley now. I’m sure that would be more fun than staying here with you and arguing with these people.

148

notsneaky 12.04.08 at 3:54 am

“the great thing about this extract from a memo is that we can all make up our own context for it, so I’m not sure that this particular debate is going anywhere.”

Oh, I totally agree, that’s why I got distracted with Conan some way back. But hey, that’s how you generate almost 150 comments on a thread. Everybody gets to talk about their feelings.

149

notsneaky 12.04.08 at 4:07 am

“If I worked for the World Bank I think I’d be quite strongly of the view that these tradeoffs were to be made by the democratically elected governments concerned rather than being imposed by external technocrats.”

I’d be perfectly happy to have “these tradeoffs made by democratically elected governments” of the LDCs (in the cases where they exist) while at the same time opposing imposing standards-they-can’t-afford so they won’t compete with DCs’ industries. But sometimes environmental standards are imposed on LDCs as a form of indirect trade protection (since under WTO rules direct trade protection is a no-no) and sometimes they are even “voluntarily” adopted by target countries, democratic or not, through political pressure.
In terms of net effect on environmental quality there’s two things going on here; requiring certain kinds of environmental standards that cannot possibly be met by poor countries to price them out of the world markets and at the same time insisting on keeping other kinds of environmental standards low so that DC firms can move there and produce at low cost. To be a bit cynical, it’s probably the case that the LDCs probably get the shaft on both counts. Of course both of these shafts are voluntarily adopted by their democratically elected governments.

150

John Emerson 12.04.08 at 4:40 am

Michael has left again, and hopefully he really means it this time. His most recent thrashing around looks like the death throes of his argument.

I wish he’d explained before he left why he didn’t feel the need to respond to anyone else’s specific points, or why he waited until his very last post to reveal to us that the reason why he defended Summers is that he is in basic agreement with Summers, and that the other stuff he’s been talking about has just been tactical.

151

dsquared 12.04.08 at 8:43 am

I believe if you asked Summers what he thought his most important contribution to LDC public health was, he’d at least considering answering: “Successfully arguing for bailing out Mexico after the peso crash, and helping to get it through against public opposition.”

I doubt it; Larry Summers would presumably be aware that Mexico is an OECD country, and was in 1994.

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