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CHEN XUEMING: Consolidating dominance of the logic of capital

| 2015-05-28 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Some may justify the green economy by claiming that the sky is bluer and the water is clearer in capitalist countries. The argument, however, is ill founded. Modern-day capitalism is global, so the question of whether it can address the ecological crisis should not depend on the situation in a certain capitalist region but on the overall situation of worldwide capitalist development. It is one-sided to evaluate the damage to nature in a certain region by the logic of capital. Instead, the examination of global capitalism as a whole is needed.

Contemporary global capitalism is characterized by the international division of labor, which makes it possible for people in charge of the system to concentrate pollution in an area while keeping other areas relatively clean.

In 1991, Lawrence Summers, who was serving as the chief economist of the World Bank at the time, sent several colleagues a memo that presented some views on the environment and reflected the logic of capital. A section of the memo was published in The Economist shortly thereafter with an eye-catching title “Let Them Eat Pollution.” Here, “them” refers to the vast amount of poor people, especially those in developing countries. The memo wrote explicitly that “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”

Summers was being sarcastic when he stated that shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries and toxic waste to Third World countries while turning a deaf ear to the opposition of the international trade in toxic waste because the opposition is no different from objecting to capitalist development.

As a matter of fact, the sentence “let them eat pollution” has explained why the sky is bluer and the water is clearer in some capitalist regions in the West, which has also helped prove that green capitalism is nothing but balderdash.


Chen Xueming is a professor from the Center for Contemporary Marxism in Foreign Countries at Fudan University.