But that, I think, makes him even more admirable: as an economist, he is able to think clearly about the issue without being influenced by ethical concerns; that's what I want in an economist.
So without being influenced by ethical concerns, he can figure out the...right thing to do? Look, there is such a thing as positive economics in which you try to figure out GDP and inflation rates and so forth, and ethics should be kept as far away as possible. But when you're talking about actually doing things (as Summers is) then your decision is going to be based on either ethics or aesthetics, and I think the former is a lot more applicable to public policy than the latter.
1) if we measure the cost of pollution in terms of lost wages due to ill health, then those making the least will lose the least when they get sick or die
If we measure the cost of pollution in terms of lost wages due to ill health, then we'd kill a million third worlders before one Bill Gates. There is something seriously wrong with that. Ethically speaking.
he can figure out the...right thing to do?
Emphatically not. That's the point of saying he's not a dictator but an economist. He should make the clearest economic case and let those who have legitimate power decide what to do. I find what he's written admirable because it's so difficult for most people to separate their ethical bias from their analysis.
There is something wrong with that. Ethically speaking.
Agreed (mostly). Again, I'm not claiming that Summers is proposing good policy, but that he's doing good and necessary economic analysis, for which we shouldn't be quick to condemn him. I can't agree unreservedly because there may be a case to be made that this apparently morally problematic course may, in fact, kill fewer people, or bring about some greater benefit in the long run.
I'm kind of confused here. If Summers had written a memo calculating forgone earnings from increased mortality due to pollution and showing that this is less in LDCs than in developed countries than I would be right beside you defending him. That memo would be a piece of positive economics and ethics would have nothing to do with the subject.
But Summers did not write that memo. His memo begins, "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs?". The second the word "shouldn't" appeared, Summers entered the normative realm. You cannot talk about what the World Bank should or shouldn't do without referencing some kind of norm. In this case the relevant norm is ethics and so ethics has everything to do with this.
I can't agree unreservedly because there may be a case to be made that this apparently morally problematic course may, in fact, kill fewer people, or bring about some greater benefit in the long run.
Yes, and it may be that shipping toxic waste to LDCs will bring about the second coming of Jesus. But Summers did not argue that, nor did he apparently feel that one needs to. It is precisely this that people find so objectionable.
I think you're confused because I haven't been clear. The two possible defenses of Summers are distinct. The first defense is that he may be making a larger normative claim that justifies the apparent callousness of his position regarding pollution. He doesn't flesh this out, but, as I say in the post, I think his addendum about "every Bank proposal for liberalization" invokes it.
The second possible defense is my contribution, not from Summers' memo. The gist is that an economist who feels no need justify his proposals ethically may be just the kind of economist we should want.
"I say in the post, I think his addendum about "every Bank proposal for liberalization" invokes it."
Agreed. To most economists, the fact that industries coming to rural society improves the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous population is axiomatic. Assuming Summers was writing for fellow economists (he was), this was a basic assumption of the intended readership.