A deeply researched and widely acclaimed account of the World Bank and its destructive impact on the environment and social equity, as well as a questioning of the history, underlying assumptions, and goals of globalized economic development.

Over two decades ago, Bruce Rich's Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development revealed a systemic record of failed projects and misplaced priorities in the operations of the world's preeminent international development institution, the World Bank. The uproar over Mortgaging the Earth led the World Bank President to order 22 Vice Presidents and other senior officials to write a rebuttal for the public, the international press, and the Bank's more than 150 member governments.

Rich's investigation of confidential internal documents, Congressional hearings, human rights reports, economic history, journal articles, and interviews with former staff members revealed a disturbing, destabilizing alliance between the World Bank and national governments that negligently and extensively ravaged the environment and natural resources, and impoverished millions. Mortgaging the Earth was widely hailed for shining light on the practices--in contrast to the rhetoric--of the Bank. Called a “detailed and thought-provoking look at an important subject” by The New York Times and a "great book" by Le Monde Diplomatique, Mortgaging the Earth recounts proposals for a world development bank that date back to the 19th Century, examines the World Bank's founding at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944, and reviews its history up to the 1992 United Nations Rio Earth Summit. It scrutinizes, inter alia, massive Bank-funded projects that displaced millions of the poor, from India and Indonesia to Brazil, leading to widespread deforestation and ecological impoverishment.

Rich's widely acclaimed study offers not only an important history but critical insights about globalized economic development that are ever-more relevant--and urgent-- today.

Mortgaging the Earth was reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Financial Times, Economist, Business Week, Toronto Star, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Village Voice, Toronto Globe and Mail, Le Monde Diplomatique, London Guardian, In These Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, London New Statesman, and numerous academic publications, including the British Medical Journal.

Review Quotes

"As credible as it is shocking" --Los Angeles Times

"This badly needed analysis exposes the destructive alliance between the bank and national governments that, in the name of progress, has plundered natural resources and impoverished millions . . . . [Rich's] merciless evaluation should help provoke an overdue debate about the bank's future." --Business Week

"A detailed catalogue of such misdemeanors" --The Economist, London

"A hard-hitting and authoritative work, useful and provocative." --Christian Science Monitor

"Rips apart the bank's lending policies and has sent the noble institution into a spin" --The Guardian, London

"This exposé deserves a wide readership" --Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"A detailed and thought-provoking look at an important subject." --New York Times Book Review

"Un grand livre" --Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris

"You don't have to be a card-carrying green to benefit from this chronicle of how the World Bank became a powerful force for the destruction of the natural environment." --Boston Globe

"Disturbing" --The Nation

"Rich poses timely questions about the World Bank.. . .[and] is right in his criticism of the bank's lending practices on many counts." --Financial Times, London

"This book is, however, more than just a critique of the World Bank. Rich uses the bank as an example of a wider global mental sickness, one of lack of accountability and lack of attention to local knowledge....This important book contributes significantly in the struggle to save our human habitat" --British Medical Journal

"A lively synthesis of previously unseen Bank documents, human rights reports, journal articles, economic history, and interviews with former and current Bank staffers." --Village Voice Literary Supplement

"For those who have long had their suspicions of the World Bank, 'Mortgaging the Earth' proves they were right." --New Statesman, London

 "A Vivid History" --Globe and Mail, Toronto

"brilliantly written...point[s] out the folly of our present course of action and the needless suffering caused by our pursuit of what Bruce Rich describes as the last modern ideology, development....There is a real paradox in the nihilistic nature of economic growth as we currently understand the term...show[s]  clearly how the burdens of over-exploitation of the environment have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, while the benefits have gone to the already rich." --Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, RSA Journal, London


1. The New York Times Sunday Book Review, "Developing Ourselves to Death," William K. Stevens, p. 29, Sunday March 6, 1994.


 "Economic development may seem so much a part of modern times as to render self-evident Bruce Rich's premise that it "is now the organizing principle for almost every society and nation on the planet." According to Mr. Rich, it is "a relatively new idea in history, spreading from western Europe in the 17th century to conquer the world over the next three centuries."Those are the same three centuries in which people have most extensively altered the global environment. And for the last 50 years, the World Bank has been the primary handmaiden of modernization in what used to be called the third world. The guiding principle of the international lending organization, as Mr. Rich sees it, has been that central planners, working from the top down and operating from pure reason, can devise universally applicable approaches to development. This running project, he argues, has gone perversely awry, fostering rampant ecological destruction and the dislocation of millions of people. "Mortgaging the Earth" is rife with examples from around the world, drawn from Mr. Rich's extensive research, from leaked documents and from his own experience as a consultant for the bank and a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is one of a handful of people to make the environmental record of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development an issue in recent years.""

2. Le Monde Diplomatique, Avril, 1994


 "Bruce Rich...démonte, à l’aide d’une énorme documentation, les effets dévastateurs de la   politique menée sur toute la planète par la Banque mondiale. Il le fait, de surcroît, dans un style brillant et vivant. « Qui va diriger le monde, et comment ? » , s’interroge l’auteur américain qui, au-delà de l’étude de la Banque, médite en permanence sur le type de développement mis en oeuvre, et plaide en faveur des mille et une richesses qu’une « société civile mondiale » pourrait faire éclore. Un grand livre, qui est d’abord un questionnement sur le sens du mot liberté et a suscité la fureur des bonnes consciences qui règnent sur la Banque mondiale."--Jacques Decornoy

Translation: "Bruce Rich...shows, with enorrmous documentation, the devastating effects of the policies led by the World Bank over the entire planet. He does it, moreover, in a brilliant and vivid style. 'Who shall rule the world--and how?" asks the American author who, beyond the study of the book, deeply reflects on the type of economic development that is being carried out, and pleads in favor of the thousand and one riches that a 'global civil society' could help to flourish. A great book, which is first and foremost a reflection on the meaning of freedom, and which has aroused the fury of the complacent consciences that rule the Wrold Bank."

3. Business Week, "Is the World Bank a World Menace," Emily T. Smith, March 21, 1994

"In Mortgaging the Earth, Bruce Rich, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney and expert in international development policy, offers a withering critique of the bank's 50 years of lending. This badly needed analysis exposes the destructive alliance between the bank and national governments that, in the name of progress, has plundered natural resources and impoverished millions. Drawing on case studies, offical--and leaked--bank and government documents Richmakes a compelling case not only that World Bank-style development often fails to deliver its promised economic payoff, but also that it has been a 'a prime accomplice in a quiet war against the diversity of humankind's cultures and our planet's biological inheritance.'"


4. Publisher's Weekly, starred review, Feb 1, 1994


   "The World Bank, the largest single source of financial and economic assistance in the world, was founded in 1946 to alleviate poverty and promote development . Rich, senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, charges that today's Bank is institutionally debased and intellectually corrupt. His well-documented indictment focuses on the Bank's record in regard to the environment, citing Bank-supported projects that ignore end-use efficiency, conservation and local social organizations. Rich examines projects in the largest borrowing countries: transmigration in Indonesia; dams in India; deforestation, dams and roads in Brazil. These projects force the displacement of millions of impoverished people. Rich argues that the story is repeated in Africa, Malaysia and Thailand. He argues that global environmental management fails because there are no global solutions, only local ones. Rich points to such agencies as Inter-American, the African Development Foundation, Appropriate Technology International and Oxfam as organizations that take a more sensible, effective local approach to development than does the World Bank. This expose deserves a wide readership." 

5. Library Journal, January 1994

"The degradation of the environment and the deepening of poverty in the Third World have been intertwined over the past 30 years. Rich argues that the top-down development approach pursued by the World Bank (and most other international lenders) has much to do with these outcomes. A lawyer with the Environmental Defense Fund, Rich has for over a decade worked within a vibrant international network of grass-roots activists to mitigate and change the lending policies of the World Bank--with some success. His book is one of the most insightful and detailed accounts of the World Bank's planning processes and their negative environmental impacts across the Third World. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries." - Bill Rau, Takoma Park, Md 


6. British Medical Journal, Mortgaging the Earth by Bruce Rich, by Dorthy Logie, Vol. 209, No. 6953, August 20-27, 1994, pp. 548-49


"Mortgaging the Earth [Bruce Rich] harshly criticises the social and environmental effects of many of the World Bank's projects and views this agency as a 'prime accomplice in a quiet war against the diversity of human cultures and our planet's biological inheritance.' Doctors should be especially aware of the bank's role in reversing social welfare during the 1980s. By creating a reverse negative flow of funds from poor South to rich North the bank has failed in its role as a "development agency." To prevent debt meltdown and provide quick fixes of foreign exchange, it has exacerbated the debt crisis with its "structural adjustment" programmes, which reduce public spending on social services and health. This has particularly affected Africa, where a slowing down, or even reversal, of the decline in infant mortality, plus deteriorating nutrition and reduced access to health and education are reality for most people. This book is, however, more than just a critique of the World Bank. Rich uses the bank as an example of a wider global environ mental sickness, one of lack of accountability and lack of attention to local knowledge. He sees hope in the growth of grassroots com munities, increasingly intercommunicating, such as the Indian Chipko movement and the Brazilian rubber tappers' resistance."

7. Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, RSA Journal, London, "Nihilistic Development," by Malcom Aitkin, Vo. 142, No. 5455, December, 1994, pp. 59-60

Reviewed together with "Environmental Security: The Basis of Political Stability," by Norman Myers

 "These two books are  both brilliantly written by authors pre-eminently knowledgeable in their fields and displaying lateral thinking dramatic in its effect, an holistic approach in the broadest sense of the term. Both point out the folly of our present course of action and the needless suffering caused by our pursuit of what Bruce Rich describes as the last modern ideology, development. They also both touch on the metaphysical nature of the environment and ldevelopment dilemma. There is a real paradox in the nihilistic nature of economic growth as we currently understand the term. Both books show clearly how the burdens of over-exploitation of the environment have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, while the benefits have gone to the already rich. The learning by doing approach of the Bank criticised by Rich is a subset of the global scale experiment with planet earth, an experiment which is largely unplanned and where we have very little idea of the eventual outcome. Looking back over the centuries implies that we have lost the answers we once had. Rich makes this explicit in quoting Ronald Coase's discovery that for nearly four centuries British lighthouses had been privately funded when distinguished economists argued that they were a public good that it was impracticable to build and administer privately. These books may help us to avoid the blackest predictions of environmental insecurity."


Other Articles on the World Bank and Mortgaging the Earth

1. New York Times, Book Notes, One Man vs. the World Bank, by Sarah Lyall,  Wednesday March 2, 1994


 "Bruce Rich is a senior lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington who has often been pointedly critical of the World Bank's environmental record. In his forthcoming book, 'Mortgaging the Earth' (Beacon Press), he lets the development bank have it, saying, among other things, that it has been 'a prime accomplice in a quiet war against the diversity of humankind's cultures and our planet's biological inheritance.' Management at the bank is clearly not happy about this, nor is it taking it lightly. In an internal memo that someone leaked to Mr. Rich and that he in turn made available, Alexander Shakow, the director of the bank's external-affairs department, asks 22 senior bank officials to help prepare written responses to many of Mr. Rich's criticisms, for use with journalists, legislators, book reviewers and the like. 'The President's office places a high priority on the speedy and effective preparation of the bank's views in a readable and easily used form,' Mr. Shakow wrote. To Mr. Rich, the memo was an example of just what he is criticizing. 'One could not have a better example of the bank's misplaced priorities,' he said. 'The memo is notable, among other reasons, because it demands that more time of senior bank management be devoted to preparing responses to 'Mortgaging the Earth' than they often devote to environmental or social concerns in major bank loans.' Andrew D. Steer, deputy director of the environmental department at the World Bank, said the bank was not out to discredit Mr. Rich's book but rather to point out where its philosophy differed from the author's, in case anyone asked. He said that this was a new approach, adding, 'We are not an institution that has worried enough, perhaps, about our image.' "

2. Die Zeit, Hamburg, "Die Herren ueber Soll und Haben," (The Lords of Debt and Credit),  Christian Wernicke, October 1, 1993

This full feature length article was featured in the leading German weekly Die Zeit at the time of the October 1993 Annual World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington.  It gives an in depth descriiption of the international civil society campaign to reform the World Bank, with particular reference to my advocacy activities and contacts in Germany and elsewhere.

Partial translation of selected passages: http://brucemrich.com/storage/photos/shares/ARTICLES/Zeit%20The%20Lords%20of%20Debt%20and%20Credit.pdf

"The World Bank is rich and powerful: last year, it pumped $ 23.7 billion north to south - five times more than the entire development budget in Bonn - a big bureaucracy that designs economic programs for two-thirds of humanity. At this year’s bank Annual Meeting in Washington the question arises: Who controls the World Bank? The IMF and World Bank are neglected by their European co-founders. Instead, a handful of American environmental groups use their influence on the American Congress to put the bank on a leash....Is the World Bank controlled then from the outside, by eco- activists like Bruce Rich for example? The agile lawyer is dismissive: ‘We are just harmless horseflies...' The ‘pressure to lend’ in the bureaucracy has long since become independent. ‘How else can you come up with something like this in June of this year?’ (June is the last month of the bank’s fiscal year.) He is outraged. He pulls out a pile of papers out of tattered folders and from his file of confidential World Bank documents. On a cover page reads: ‘India - Energy Sector Loans - $ 400 Million.’ One of 245 loans from the financial year 1993. And one more answer to the question of who controls the World Bank. That's why Bruce Rich has long been working internationally, so he's now the spider at the center of a thin web of environmental and development groups that are scrutinizing World Bank policies alongside their governments in other donor countries. And that's why Bruce Rich copied his documents in June and sent a thick letter to the German province via express courier. Address: D-48336 Sassenberg in Münsterland. Heffa Schücking lives here. The 34-year-old biologist is a single mother and co-worker of Urgewald, an association committed to protecting tropical rainforests. The fax machine next to the antique desk spits out daily letters from all over the world: Bruce Rich faxes short memoranda, peasants from Thailand and Guinea ask for support .... "


 "Die Weltbank ist reich und mächtig: Im vergangenen Jahr pumpte sie 23,7 Milliarden Dollar von Nord nach Süd – das ist fünfmal soviel wie der ganze Bonner Entwicklungsetat. Eine Großbürokratie entwirft Wirtschaftsprogramme für zwei Drittel der Menschheit. Bei der Jahrestagung Anfang dieser Woche in Washington kam die Frage auf: Wer kontrolliert die Weltbank?....Wird die Weltbank also von außen gesteuert, von Öko-Aktivisten wie Bruce Rich etwa? Der agile Jurist winkt ab: „Wir sind doch bloß harmlose Pferdefliegen....Längst habe sich der „Druck zum Ausleihen“ in der Bürokratie verselbständigt. „Wie können sie sonst mit so etwas kommen wie im Juni dieses Jahres?“ empört er sich. Aus prallen Aktenordnern und aus seiner Kartei voll vertraulicher Weltbank-Dokumente zieht er einen Stapel Papiere hervor. Auf einem Deckblatt steht: „Indien – Energiesektor-Darlehen – 400 Millionen Dollar“. Einer von 245 Krediten aus dem Geschäftsjahr 1993. Und eine Antwort mehr auf die Frage, wer die Weltbank kontrolliert. Deshalb arbeitet Bruce Rich längst international, deshalb ist er inzwischen die Spinne in einem dünnen Netzwerk von Umwelt- und Entwicklungsgruppen, die in anderen Geberländern die Weltbank-Politik parallel zu ihren Regierungen unter die Lupe nehmen. Und deshalb kopierte Bruce Rich im Juni seine Dokumente und schickte per Eilkurier einen dicken Brief in die deutsche Provinz. Adresse: D-48336 Sassenberg im Münsterland. Hier wohnt Heffa Schücking. Die 34jährige Biologin ist alleinerziehende Mutter und Mitarbeiterin von Urgewald, einem Verein, der sich für den Schutz tropischer Regenwälder einsetzt. Das Faxgerät neben dem antiken Schreibtisch spuckt täglich Briefe aus aller Welt aus: Bruce Rich faxt kurze Memoranden, Bauern aus Thailand und Guinea bitten um Unterstützung...."

3. The Nation, "McNamara: The Sequel," Alexander Cockburn, February 5, 2004

This 2004 article in The Nation on the legacy of Robert McNamara relies  substantially on Chapter 4 of Mortgaging the Earth, "The Faustian Paradox of Robert McNamara>"


 No worthwhile portrayal of McNamara could possibly avoid his performance at the World Bank, because there, within the overall constraints of the capitalist system he served, he was his own man. And as his own man, McNamara amplified the blunders, corruptions and lethal cruelties of American power as inflicted upon Vietnam to a planetary scale. The best terse account of the McNamara years is in Bruce Rich’s excellent history of the bank, Mortgaging the Earth, published in 1994. When McNamara took over the bank, “development” loans (which were already outstripped by repayments) stood at $953 million and when he left, at $12.4 billion, which, discounting inflation, amounted to slightly more than a sixfold increase. Just as he multiplied the troops in Vietnam, he ballooned the bank’s staff from 1,574 to 5,201. The institution’s shadow lengthened steadily over the Third World. The “appropriation of smaller farms and common areas,” Rich aptly comments, “resembled in some respects the enclosure of open lands in Britain prior to the Industrial Revolution–only this time on a global scale, intensified by…Green Revolution agricultural technology.” As an agent of methodical destruction, McNamara should be ranked among the top tier earth-wreckers of all time.


UK, German, and Indonesian editions

1. UK edition, published by Earthscan, London, 1994







2. German edition and translation, "Die Verpfaendung der Erde," Schmetterling Verlag, Stuttgart, 1998..


amazon.de:   https://www.amazon.de/Die-Verpfändung-Erde-ökologische-Entwicklungskrise/dp/3896575716




3. Indonesian translation and edition, "Menggadaikan Bumi," published by INFID, International NGO Forum on Indonesia Development, Jakarta, October, 1999.







Video: Mortgaging the Earth musical version--Annals in the history of globalization

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Mortgaging the Earth musical version: My 1994 book "Mortgaging the Earth" discussed a leaked memo from the World Bank in which then World Bank Vice President for Economics Larry Summers advocated "welfare enhancing'economically efficient" trade of pollution and waste from industrialized polluted nations to poor "underpolluted" Third World countries. I received the leaked memo during the preparations for the 1992 United Nations Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, and and had it forwarded to Brazil's then Environment Minister, the late Jose Luztenberger. Lutzenberger wrote Summers that his proposals were "perfectly logical" [according to the logic of neoliberal economics] and "totally insane." Summers went on to be U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration, and after that President of Harvard. At the time he was a prime advocate of the one sided globalization that has provoked the populist--and perhaps contrary to the expectations of some progressives, often virulently right wing and nationalistic--reaction which we are witnessing in many countries today. Bard College and former Yale Music School composer John Halle got in touch with me and composed a piece based on the words of the memo, which has been publicly performed over 20 times since its premier in 2008. This eight minute or so composition, with youtube images, is more relevant than ever, and deeply engrossing, though disturbing.