The Ecological Opportunity
Edited by Blandine Laperche, Nadine Levratto and Dimitri Uzunidis
Chapter 6: Economic Theories, Environmental Issues and History of Thought
Sophie Boutillier and Patrick Matagne INTRODUCTION For a lot of economists and intellectuals, ecological economics was born during the 1960s (Costanza, 1989; Ropke, 2004). However, the roots of this field of research are deeper. Since the nineteenth century, and even before (during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), scientists (economists and naturalists especially) have developed compelling thoughts about the effects of economic activity on nature (about pollution and resource depletion). Of course, this reflection takes places in a particular historic context marked by the industrial revolution. This chapter provides a historical perspective about the background history of thought to ecological economics. The birth of political economics is commonly linked to the publication in 1776 of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1723–90), the founder of the Classical School (Boutillier, 2003). Before that publication, economic thought already existed but it remained closely linked to ethics and philosophy and most of all, to global political power (‘l’économie du Prince’, defended by the mercantilists). Since that publication, the market has clearly been considered as the ideal kind of economic organization, though ‘laisser-faire, laisser-passer’ was not a classical but a physiocratic principle. The main issue of classical economics is the production of wealth. How do nations become wealthy? According to Smith, wealth is the result of labour. Once that principle has been set, its organization should be optimized in order to increase productivity by dividing and simplifying tasks. By asking how wealth could be produced, economists then adopted an active and wilful...
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