PSLM Recycles Controversial 1991 Summers Memo

President-elect Lawrence H. Summers beams when asked what it feels like to have his signature at the bottom of every dollar bill minted during his tenure as Treasury Secretary. He's fond of noting that his mother insisted he sign his name Lawrence--instead of the usual Larry.

Unfortunately for Summers, his scrawl on the dollar bill might not be his most famous signature.


Critics of Summers have long targeted a provocative internal memo he signed during his time as chief economist at the World Bank. The memo created a controversy when it was leaked nine years ago to The Economist, and with Summers' recent appointment as president-elect at Harvard, the debate has reemerged.


The memo laid out a detailed argument about why the World Bank should encourage the export of toxic waste to the Third World, acquiring the nickname the "Toxic Waste Memo."

Hindsight has indicated that the memo was actually written by a subordinate at the bank, and some argue that it was meant ironically. Nevertheless, critics of Summers and the bank have railed against it.

In the past, Summers has said that the memo was meant to provoke discussion within his department at the bank, but he has also apologized for its content on other occasions.

But with Summers scheduled to arrive permanently in Cambridge in July, campus activists have taken up the memo issue as well.

Since Summers was officially named president-elect on March 11, copies of the memo have been sent out over the e-mail lists of several major student groups.

Recommended Articles