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The Economics of Nature and the Nature of Economics

Edited by Cutler J. Cleveland, David I. Stern and Robert Costanza

This book discusses important recent developments in the theory, concepts and empirical applications of ecological economics and sustainable development. The editors have assembled a fascinating collection of papers from some of the leading scholars in the field of ecological economics.
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Chapter 4: Searching for sustainability: the poverty of spontaneous order

Daniel W. Bromley


Daniel W. Bromley Economists became interested in the idea of sustainability as a theoretical offshoot of early work in growth theory. From the original concern for the causes and consequences of economic growth, the gradual shift in emphasis began to concern how one might model economic growth so that the future would not be impoverished. Because economic growth is usually consumptive of natural resources, it is logical to ask how much growth can be accommodated in the present without leaving future generations with a depleted or degraded stock of natural resources. This problem has been addressed by a number of theorists (Dasgupta and Heal, 1974, 1979; Dasgupta and Mäler, 1995; Hartwick, 1977; Howarth, 1995, 1997; Howarth and Norgaard, 1990, 1995; Krautkraemer, 1985; Mäler, 1974; Page, 1977; Pearce, 1988; Solow, 1974, 1992). Solow and Hartwick, among others, adopted intergenerational equity as their guiding principle. Solow approaches sustainability as a problem of ensuring that the capital stock, whether natural or constructed, is adequate to provide a level of consumption for each future generation that is not less than that enjoyed by the current generation. This position is similar to that adopted by Pearce and Atkinson (1993). Pezzey (1989, 1992) sees the problem as one of ensuring that aggregate welfare is non-declining over time. Howarth (1995) takes a similar tack on the premise that this is the Kantian imperative. Bishop (1978) suggests a safe minimum standard of conservation, an idea originally propounded by Ciriacy-Wantrup (1968).1 The traditional economic approach to...

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