Improvements in some measures of air and water quality can accompany rising per capita income, as illustrated by the so-called environmental Kuznets curve. For pollution variables which show such a relationship, we hypothesize that a more equitable distribution of power contributes to these outcomes, by enhancing the influence on policy of those who bear the costs of pollution, relative to the influence of those who benefit from pollution-generating activities. An empirical analysis of international variations in seven indicators of air and water quality supports this hypothesis. Literacy, political rights, and civil liberties are found to have particularly strong effects on environmental quality in low-income countries.
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