IMF, Clinton/Gore & Yugoslavia
Bombing the Bridge to the 21st Century:

Clinton & Gore's Appointee – Lawrence Summers – To Manage Their New World Order

by Mitchel Cohen

President Clinton's annihilation of Yugoslavia's water and electric systems, schools, hospitals and sanitation facilities, bridges, dams, refineries and factories, puts the New World Order's vast modern arsenal of death and ecological devastation on display. Its depleted uranium weapons, cluster bombs, graphite bombs, supposedly invisible "Stealth" fighter jets, and so-called "Apache" and "Black Hawk" helicopter gunships ravage the recalcitrant populace. "Don't Fuck With Us" is the message, as written on a bomb fragment found near Pristina, in Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The US rulers, wrapped in the Emperor's new line of clothing known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, scream to the world: "We are your master, do as we say."

And so, as beautiful cities such as Belgrade, Nis, and Pristina pass into the most post-modernist of fantasies of what "stone age" landscape must have looked like, a "second wave" is being prepared, the economic bombs of "structural adjustment," to smack the region, and all areas within the Empire's grasp, into the fold of its Brave New World Order. To oversee this mission, and indeed, to oversee all of U.S. financial policy, President Clinton has nominated one Lawrence Summers to the cabinet post of Secretary of the Treasury, replacing the retiring Robert Rubin. Summers now awaits what many believe to be pro forma Senate confirmation before officially taking that post.

In December, 1991, Lawrence Summers was the chief economist for the World Bank. In that capacity, he issued a surprisingly forthright memorandum to senior World Bank staff calling upon them to plan their structural adjustment programs and renegotiated debt payment schedules in such a way as to encourage relatively non-polluted areas of the world to, among other things, accept a fairer "redistribution" of the industrial world's wastes and pollution. This would go a long way towards, as he put it, rectifying the current toxic "imbalance."

"I've always thought," Summers wrote, "that under populated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low [in pollutants] compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City." (London Economist, Feb. 1992)

Summers, who edited the World Bank's World Development Report for 1992, claimed to have worked out "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country." He found that logic to be "impeccable, and we should face up to that." In the upcoming confirmation hearings, will a single U.S. senator ask Summers whether he still finds that logic to be "impeccable" and, if not, what he now finds wrong with it?

"So much pollution is generated by non tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) [which makes] the unit transport costs of solid waste ... so high," Summers lamented. These non-tradable industries unfortunately "prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste" as stipulated for domestic polluters in the 1991 Clean Air Act. Instead of outlawing dangerous pollutants and carcinogens, the Act granted "pollution credits" – ecological destruction quotas – to corporations and municipalities in the U.S. Those who "under pollute" may then sell their "excess" pollution credits – their "right" to ravage the environment – to companies that refused or were not able to cut back in toxic wastes and still maintain their profit rates – the "free market" at its most crass and savage.

Nor did Summers stop there. He went on to mock complaints by the poor who reported that their health was being shattered by the dumping of toxins in their communities. Summers had his counter-argument spit-polished and shiny as a boot upon the throat of the impoverished. Because of their poverty, he argued, the poor would never live long enough to contract the diseases exposure to dumped or burned wastes would ordinarily cause in people who lived longer lives – in other words, those living in the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia. "The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostate cancer," he wrote, "is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under five mortality is 200 per thousand." So, Summers concluded, dumping toxic wastes in areas where people already have abbreviated lifespans is no skin off their nose. Why find ways to help people live longer – that is, why eliminate the imperialist conditions causing their poverty – when they are providing such an inestimable service to northern industrial states, therein making their miserable lives meaningful?

In Summers' worldview, "poor countries should exploit their `comparative advantage' of low wages, or access to natural resources, or lower environmental standards," explain Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, who co authored "Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy." "While few countries have `developed' with this approach, it has proved very effective for companies like Nike, which has taken advantage of low wages throughout Asia, or even G.M., which produces cars and trucks in Mexico with the same technology as in Michigan but with lower wage workers. Makers of polluting technologies such as incinerators that are being phased out in industrialized countries have also benefited, because they are able to stay in business by selling to third world countries. U.S. manufacturers that wanted to escape environmental regulations (like furniture makers who use toxic glues, solvents, and paints) have capitalized by shifting from places like Los Angeles to Mexico." (San Francisco Bay Guardian)

Former Greenpeace activst Jim Vallette (now with the International Trade Information Service) picks up the same thread: Under World Bank, International Monetary Fund and now World Trade Organization policies, "world trade has burgeoned with imbalanced cargoes: banned pesticides, leaded gasoline, CFCs, asbestos, and other products restricted in the North are sold to the South; tropical timber, oil, coal, and other natural resources flow from South to North with little or no benefit to the host communities; and while regulations tighten around dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power plants in the North, they are proliferating in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America, where they are owned and operated by Northern corporations.

"This trade has been facilitated through tens of billions of dollars of financing by the World Bank, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Export Import Bank, government institutions in which Mr. Summers has wielded his economic logic. His 1991 memo can be considered a working thesis behind this decade's dominant global economic policies."

Back in 1992, people throughout the world saw through Summers' grand scheme to further poison them in the name of the "free market." They raised a ruckus. They understood that Summers' outrageous analysis was no aberration in an otherwise sterling and positive career. For years Summers had blocked initiatives by environmental organizations to make the World Bank more ecologically and socially responsible. His "pollution" memo was simply the latest and most public scheme by Summers on behalf of the World Bank.

Greenpeace and numerous defenders of the planet demanded that the World Bank terminate Summers. Brazil's Secretary of the Environment, Jose Lutzenberger, wrote to Summers directly: "Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane. ... Your thoughts [provide] a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation, reductionist thinking, social ruthlessness and the arrogant ignorance of many conventional `economists' concerning the nature of the world we live in. ... If the World Bank keeps you as vice president it will lose all credibility. To me it would confirm what I often said ... the best thing that could happen would be for the Bank to disappear." (Jose Lutzenberger, in "Greenpeace Waste Trade Update," no. 5.1, First Quarter 1992.)

Lutzenburger was fired shortly after writing his letter.

Following the memo's publication in the London Economist in February 1992 and the consequent hue and cry against it from imperialized countries, the World Bank was driven into an apologetic frenzy.

But instead of being shocked by the horror of the environmental devastation Summers prescribed, the big corporations and governments of industrialized countries looked upon Summers' proposal and argumentation rather favorably. The expropriation of the environment and the privatization of public lands is, after all, as central to the accumulation of capital as is the exploitation of labor.

Just as NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was no accident, toxic imperialism – the coordinated and well managed global looting of resources and labor, and the well-planned strategic disposal of toxic wastes on an international scale – is not some isolated happenstance of industrial production that can be apologized for and dismissed, but is in actuality a fundamental component of George Bush's and Bill Clinton's New World Order, a weapon in the imposition of structural adjustment programs upon the "third world."

Not understanding this class dimension, many environmental activists thought that with the Clinton administration taking over in Washington in 1993, the environment would be saved, things would improve, peace would reign and Summers, then of the World Bank, would go away. Instead, Clinton and Gore were able to push through legislation in Congress – NAFTA, GATT and World Trade Organization founding measures, disgusting welfare "reform," new laws that completely erode the Constitution (under the guise of "anti-terrorism"), vast increases in military spending, the almost total decimation of the last remaining old-growth and redwoods forests in the United States, the defeat of Haiti's progressive movements and continued U.S. military occupation of that country, huge promotion of genetically engineered foods and biotechnology industry, the ongoing bombardment and sanctions against Iraq and Yugoslavia, the attempted dismemberment of organic standards, the legalization of irradiation of food, and the managed collapse of a once-powerful movement for free universal health care) – with a skill that even the odious former President George Bush is forced to admire. Even before taking office, President Clinton sought to appoint Summers to a national policy position: Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors.

Environmental and other radical groups were outraged and fought against his appointment. For a time, they were successful. But Summers' work on behalf of global capitalism would not go unrewarded. The day following Clinton's inauguration as the 42nd President of the United States, he appointed Lawrence Summers to the post of Undersecretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury, a position traditionally responsible for "the formulation of U.S. economic policy in the Third World, including U.S. policy related to the IMF, the World Bank and the regional development banks." (The Development Group for Alternative Policies, Inc., "Statement on the Appointment of Lawrence Summers," 1400 I St. NW, Suite 520, Washington D.C. 20005.) By 1995, the environment was in worse shape than ever, and there were record levels of profit taking on Wall Street. (For more on Clinton and Gore's corporate cabinet appointments, see Doug Vaughan, "The Clinton Cabinet: Affirmative Action for the Ethically Challenged," in Covert Action Quarterly, Spring 1993, 1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, #732, Washington D.C. 20005.)

Other World Bank officials had helped to shape government policy as well. Prior to his tenure as president of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981, Robert McNamara had, you will recall, been the Secretary of Defense of the United States and, in that capacity, the main architect of the "automated battlefield," which the U.S. government applied in Vietnam, slaughtering more than two million Vietnamese people and poisoning their crops, farmlands and water supply for generations to come. It was McNamara who approved the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants that poisoned the land throughout the region, and along with it the lives of American GIs. Moving to the World Bank, McNamara helped open up Thailand to the sex trade industry and presided over World Bank policies oriented towards the privatization of publicly used lands – the commons – there, and consequent ecological catastrophes.

The revolving door between high level government appointments and international banking, insurance and multinational corporate boards has been spinning as freely as ever during the Clinton/Gore administrations. After appointing Summers to his post Clinton selected Ron Brown, former lawyer and public relations flak for Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier, as Secretary of Commerce. From that post Brown participated in setting up the IMF's devastating Structural Adjustment Program for Haiti. Another of Brown's roles was to oversee the transport of toxic wastes abroad.

These strategies rely on the acceptance of "debt restructuring" by countries owing large amounts of money to western banks. (If they don't accept that protocol, they get bombed and sanctioned until they do.) While individual banks of course want to recoup their loans, global finance capital as a whole – and as reflected in government policy – does not want its loans repaid in full. It fosters indebtedness as leverage, to accomplish a number of things critical to the continued expansion of capital: 1) hammer the working classes in debt ridden countries into line; 2) obliterate ("enclose") longstanding communal ways of living; 3) establish capital's new global managers – NGOs – to intercede in the new movements "on behalf of" indigenous people, workers and community movements, removing them from speaking in their own voice around their own demands and negotiating away their victories against the imposition of capitalist relations in exchange for immediate (and temporary) improvements in their material situations within those relations; 4) drive down gains made during decades of struggle; 5) present a pretext for "balancing the budget" at home, and thus provide a pretext for attacking gains made in workers' living standards here; and, 6) develop small indigenous capitalist classes dependent upon global capital, and maintain them in power.

This is largely what the US/NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia is about – the reassertion of U.S. capitalist hegemony over the region. In his last act as Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown was leading a coterie of corporate executives, military personnel and defense contractors whose companies had contributed generously to the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. Their search for corporate gain and expansion of their markets took them to war-torn Yugoslavia, where they examined ways of "recouping" their "investments" in Clinton and Gore by exploiting the break up of that beleaguered country.

When the plane went down over Yugoslavia three years ago with dozens of corprate moguls aboard (some say it was shot down, generating the sort of personalized anger fueling President Clinton's insistent bombardment), down with it went the immediate application of U.S. strategy "to bring the region firmly into the American sphere of military and commercial interest. [Brown's] was the tour to cash in the investment and bring home the trophies." (Counterpunch, April 1996)

At stake, at the time, in addition to cheap labor, military parts, future oil rights and a vast assortment of natural resources in already-developed mines, was $5.1 billion in reconstruction funds (that figure tripled, and by now has doubled again, to more than an estimated $32 billion), with the World Bank set to dispense $1.8 billion for the region in corporate giveaways in 1996 alone.

This is the face of capitalism as we approach the millenium: Imperialism with a toxic face. It was most clearly articulated in Summers' "free market in toxics" memo to the Brave New World Bank, an explicit strategy not only for dumping the wastes of northern industrial countries in the global south, but, under a variety of arrangements, for keeping the working classes within every country in their place.

Postscript: Jim Vallette writes: "In 1994, by the way, virtually every other country in the world broke with Mr. Summers' Harvard trained "economic logic" ruminations about dumping rich countries' poisons on their poorer neighbors, and agreed to ban the export of hazardous wastes from OECD to non OECD countries under the Basel Convention. Five years later, the United States is one of the few countries that has yet to ratify the Basel Convention or the Basel Convention's Ban Amendment on the export of hazardous wastes from OECD to non OECD countries." Senators might do well to ask Mr. Summers what his views are on pressuring for U.S. ratification of the ban on export of hazardous wastes.

Mitchel Cohen is a member of the Red Balloon Collective, founded at SUNY Stony Brook in 1969, and organizes with the Brooklyn Greens, Green Party of New York, and Greens / Green Party USA.

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