NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Is Pollution Value-Maximizing? The DuPont Case

Roy Shapira, Luigi Zingales

NBER Working Paper No. 23866
Issued in September 2017
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance, Law and Economics

DuPont, one of the most respectable U.S. companies, caused environmental damage that ended up costing the company around a billion dollars. By using internal company documents disclosed in trials we rule out the possibilities that this bad outcome was due to ignorance, an unexpected realization, or a problem of bad governance. The documents rather suggest that the polluting was a rational decision: under reasonable probabilities of detection, polluting was ex-ante optimal from the company’s perspective, even if the cost of preventing pollution was lower than the cost of the health damages produced. We then examine why different mechanisms of control – legal liability, regulation, and reputation – all failed to deter a behavior that was inefficient from a social point of view. One common reason for the failures of deterrence mechanisms is that the company controls most of the information and its release. We then sketch potential ways to mitigate this problem.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23866

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