I'm not going to defend Lant Pritchett. But there is a serious
issue here. In Ghana--where 60% of the urban population has no
access to the sewer system, where 70% of energy still comes from
burning wood and charcoal (and where rain acidity as a result
at times reaches Black Forest levels), where 40% of people drink
contaminated water, and where 15% of people suffer from waterborne
diseases--should taxicabs have to have catalytic converters installed?
The "no" argument is that it adds $700 or so to
the cost of the automobile. That $700 could--if it were used
wisely--be devoted to upgrading the sewer system, or building
a water purification plant, or expanding the electrical grid
so that smoke emissions from firewood could be reduced, or importing
medical supplies to treat people once they have gotten cholera.
Any of these would do more good than harm would be done by the
extra CO and SO2 emitted by the taxicab over the course of its
The "yes" arguments--there are two--are, first,
that we will never gain control of our environmental problems
until clean-up is viewed not as merely one goal to be traded-off
against others but as a fundamental ethically-mandated constraint
on all human economic activity; and, second, that the $700 saved
won't go to the sewer system or the water purification plant
or for medical supplies, but to the Swiss bank account of some
Deputy Assistant Secretary and nephew of the Colonel commanding
the First Armored Brigade somewhere in the Cayman Islands.
There is also a fourth argument: What business is it of anyone
in the first world telling people in developing countries that
they can or cannot pollute? There's a fifth argument: What developing-country
government is truly democratic, and so has the right to legislate
a lower level of pollution protection for its people in the first
place? There's a sixth argument: environmental protection is
everyone's business, and the sooner we get a global pollution
control authority in place the better.
I think that all of these arguments have force.
I am inclined to say that democratically-elected governments
should be allowed to run their own pollution-control, environmental-standards,
and environmental-clean up programs: if people in the first world
want to see a greater degree of environmental clean up than democratically-elected
politicians in developing countries feel that their countries
can afford, let the first world pay for it explicitly through
government-to-government negotiations. I am also inclined to
think that non-democratic governments should be held to a much
higher standard in terms of allowable emissions from activities
financed by first world (or World Bank) money--a look at Ogoniland
or Lake Baikal or the Aral Sea will convince anyone that non-democratic
governments are prone to make definitely wrong decisions about
But these are hard and serious issues where I don't think
I have many (if any) of the answers.