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External Costs

External Costs

Douglas Gayeton

External Costs

Location: Patterson, New Jersey

Featuring: Allied Textile Plant/Great Falls of the Passaic River

In 1792, Alexander Hamilton helped found the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures. The nation’s first industrial park was built at the Great Falls’ of New Jersey’s Passaic River. A succession of industries utilized the river’s embedded energy to build everything from textiles to steel, Colt pistols to locomotives. These companies capitalized on nature. They depended on energy generated by the Passaic and saved money by dumping waste directly into the river. Externalizing those costs led to lower prices and greater profits, at least for a time. While those companies have vanished, the external costs remain. The river is now one of the most polluted in America.

The price of cheap goods is an illusion. Everything costs money. From the water in the strawberries to the plastic bags and stickers carrying your goods. You pay at the checkout stand or you pay in other more oblique ways. These external costs are hard to see. In fact, sometimes they’re only visible to future generations.

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