Edited by Ekko C. Van Ierland, Jan van der Straaten and Herman Vollebergh
Chapter 7: Technical progress, finite resources and intergenerational justice
7. Technical progress, ﬁnite resources and intergenerational justice Wilfred Beckerman 1 INTRODUCTION This volume bears witness to Hueting’s important contribution to environmental economics, in the form of his pioneering work in the area of the valuation of the stock of natural resources and on the conceptual and practical problems of adjusting conventional estimates of economic growth in order to allow for changes in this stock. The widespread view that such estimates are required is based on the assumption that changes in the stock of natural resources are often negative and that depletion of the stock of natural resources means that we are storing up problems for future generations when the stock declines to dangerously low levels. This, it is then argued, means that conventional estimates of economic growth would overstate the true underlying ‘net’ growth rate, and would also give an exaggerated notion of the feasible rate of so-called ‘sustainable development’. How far this positive assumption is valid and what normative constraints exist anyway on the rate at which current generations should use up the stock of natural resources are two separate questions. The ﬁrst is a matter of empirical evidence and its interpretation in the light of the related economic theory. The second is a matter of ethics. Having spent most of my life teaching economics at the University of Oxford, which pioneered – at least in Britain – the combined teaching of philosophy and economics, I make no apologies for attempting, in this study, to step outside the boundaries of...
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