Economics, Equity and the Ecological Predicament
Advances in Ecological Economics series
Edited by Joshua Farley and Deepak Malghan
Chapter 5: On limits
Economics is first about scale, then about distribution and last about allocation. If we were to rank the core messages from the extensive work of Herman Daly, this would – despite the brute simplification – probably make it to the top. The issue of scale concerns the size of the economy compared to the capacities of the biosphere into which it is embedded. Hence, his position may be seen to pioneer the self-reflection of humanity at the stage of our development where the environmental consequences of human action have grown global. If we now provoke the failing of the biosphere to sustain our lives well, there would be no new place to go, no ‘new frontier’ for future generations to exploit. Mainstream economic theory describes a world with unlimited options for substitution. It is moreover a position that is largely underpinning economic policy across the entire globe. Economic growth is a goal that goes unquestioned in most policy circles. Certainly, economic growth for those in poverty is morally unquestionable. However, its value as a basis for policy among the rich is far less obvious. Actually, it is rather such that we – the rich – should be more careful and leave as much space as possible for the poor who need to expand their consumption and hence the use of environmental resources.
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