Author Topic: Ecological Economics  (Read 6468 times)


  • Power User
  • ***
  • Posts: 100
    • View Profile
Ecological Economics
« on: January 31, 2008, 09:53:02 AM »
Hi all,

This pod cast popped up on one of my professional newsgroups.   

"Beyond Economic Growth
April 14, 2007      Total time: 57:03
Speaker: Joshua Farley, Assistant Professor, Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont and Fellow with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics.

Here, Farley challenges the view that continuous economic growth on a planet with finite resources is possible or even desirable, particularly in the wealthy countries. He asks the question, "Is it the magic of the market or the magic of fossil fuels (which we're rapidly depleting) that has driven economic growth and consumption?" He discusses why the market economy has failed to account for declining ecosystem services, the life support services of the planet, suggesting that economic growth actually has the opportunity costs of eliminating or severely degrading the ecosystem services that belong to the commons. He goes on to suggest that the scale of the economy and just distribution have to take precedence over the neoclassical economic focus of allocation of scarce resources and offers some solutions to replace the conventional economic paradigm with a sustainable economy based on ecological economics."

I thought I would offer this to see what you think about it.

« Last Edit: January 31, 2008, 08:51:32 PM by Karsk »


  • Power User
  • ***
  • Posts: 17454
    • View Profile
Re: Ecological Economics
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2008, 01:59:26 PM »
Dead link. It sounds like the usual marxist tripe hidden under a swath of green.


  • Administrator
  • Power User
  • *****
  • Posts: 49762
    • View Profile
Re: Ecological Economics
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2008, 02:24:14 PM »

The free market requires that all costs of a transaction are born by buyer and seller.  Thus, pollution is a violation of the free market, and as such IMHO fair game for taxation, penalties, etc.  IN LIEU OF taxation of good things like income, profit, savings, inheritance, etc.

As for the problem of the public commons, the simple fact is that Marxist and State driven economies tend to have absolutely terrible records when it comes to protecting the environment e.g. Russia, China.  The simple fact is the the relatively free market economies tend to produce the standard of living which enables concern for the environment.

We have seen numerous examples of what happens when a forest is not owned--everyone cuts down trees before someone else does-- net result, no forest) and when a forest is owned--owners self-interest is to harvest at sustaining levels.  Did you know that the forest seen in the beginning of "The Last of the Mohicans" was filmed in a lumber company's forest?  This applies to animals too.  Where the Masai can make $ off lion and elephant related tourism, they stop trying to eliminate them. 

In short the argument of the piece you post is, IMHO, "the usual marxist tripe hidden under a swatch of green."  :-D


  • Power User
  • ***
  • Posts: 100
    • View Profile
Re: Ecological Economics
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2008, 09:50:35 PM »
Interesting responses!  So now the link is live. 

The basic idea is that economic health is defined as growth (increasing economy) in fundamental economic theory.  But physical/ecological constraints to growth are often neglected or if they are included it is only with reference to the effects on costs.  The idea that there is an actual upper limit to the amount of matter that is available is in fact defined by the first law of thermodynamics.  The second law of thermodynamics is that the universe tends to disorder.  This means that things do not spontaneously organize over time.  (Stuff breaks down.  You have to use more energy to build stuff naturally and man made than will be contained in the thing you make...building always results in waste heat).  How does this relate to economics? 

It means that economic laws have to be a subset of physical and natural laws.  It means that we live in a closed system and that energy flows through the closed system of matter from the sun back out into space as heat and in the process we do things with it.  It means that there is a limit to how much of anything is available and defines that we must pay attention to what happens when we are finished with tings that we make.

So I think a question to ponder is:  do you have to have growth for an economy to be successful?  Can an economy in steady state feel good to live in.  Can people be happy and feel accomplished in a state where as the Tao says:

"He who feels that he has enough will always have enough"

Does this concept mean we relegate ourselves to marxist tripe?   I don't think that necessarily follows.   Perhaps it means things like:

consciously choosing a certain level of consumption is reasonable or is a function of what is available. And that we tax energy use/waste production as you say.

Recognizing that managing waste (what do I do with my computer when I am done with it?) is engineered into the manufacturing process even as the anabolic (development) side of the engineering process is perfected.


Idea 2.

Island systems in biology are limited to a certain amount of space ecologically.  They are microcosms for the whole planet.  An island ecology is not based on matter that is outside of the island for the most part though there is some flows into and out of any island (they are not perfectly closed). 

In island systems "abundance" is scale dependent. If I am an ant living on the island, the available space that I have seems infinite. If I were one of a population of caribou on the same island, then resources seem more scarce.  If ants are so successful that they fill up the whole island with population and growth, a whole bunch of things start to change.  Competition becomes a factor in survival as opposed to pioneering capacity.   These kind of things are useful models.   Some ecological systems can remain extremely stable for a long time. Some oscillate.  Some undergo catastrophic failure.  Sometimes its hard to tell what is going to happen in such a model system.  Sometimes its not that hard at all.


Our economic systems are a subset of these processes not the other way around as near as I can tell.  I dont think your comment indicated that you felt otherwise.

Idea 3.

There is a theory of change that has been recently proposed that recognizes a multi scalar cyclical process that occurs in systems. It's called Panarchy It was developed by a fellow named Hollings who worked at the Sante Fe Institute...a group that focuses on complexity theory.

This concept of change suggests that systems have 4 states of change:

1. pioneering new ideas (building them up)
2. stabilization and competition
3. revolt and system collapse
4. innovation and evolution

These stages feed one into the other rather like a 4 part yin/yang.   By recognizing what phase of the system you are in you may be able to develop policies best suited to the circumstances. This concept is being studied in ecology as well as in economics and in other systems as well.

What doe this mean to our countries, our families and our lives? 

It may mean that we are riding a bunch of waves and we'd best prepare ourselves for inevitable changes.

It may also mean that we have an opportunity to learn and to perhaps develop some ways of either utilizing these cycles of change or of slowing down of speeding up...or stabilizing processes.