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Frontier Issues in Ecological Economics

Frontier Issues in Ecological Economics

Philip Lawn

Ecological economics formally emerged in the late 1980s in response to the failure of mainstream economic paradigms to deal adequately with the interdependence of social, economic and ecological systems. Frontier Issues in Ecological Economics focuses on a range of cutting-edge issues in the field of ecological economics and outlines plausible measures to achieve a more sustainable, just, and efficient world for all.

Chapter 18: Is a Steady-State Economy Compatible with a Democratic-Capitalist System?

Philip Lawn

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, environment, ecological economics


18. Is a steady-state economy compatible with a democraticcapitalist system? INTRODUCTION This book has focused heavily on the belief that achieving sustainable development requires the eventual transition to a steady-state economy. While a number of observers have revealed themselves to be sympathetic to this ecological economic position, many question the capacity of a democratic-capitalist system to achieve such a goal (Olson, 1973; Heilbroner, 1974; Thurow, 1980; O’Connor, 1994; Luban, 1998). There are, however, a great number of commentators who have been far less kind to ecological economists. These commentators openly refute the suggestion that growth needs to be curtailed (e.g., Beckerman, 1992). Doubts about the ecological economic position rest on the back of three generally held beliefs: first, continued growth is desirable and can be sustained provided there is adequate substitution and resource-saving technological progress; second, both a low growth economy and a steady-state economy are inconsistent with the imperatives of a market based capitalist system; and third, only an authoritarian regime could impose and maintain the macro-environmental constraints advocated by ecological economists. I believe that Parts I and II have already debunked the first of these beliefs. With the support of arguments expressed throughout the book, my aim in this chapter is to successfully deal with the second and third beliefs. To do this, I will argue that a steady-state economy is very much compatible with a democratic-capitalist system. On the surface, this may seem little more than an interesting albeit extravagant exercise. For two good reasons, I believe...

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