Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Economist’s View

This letter (edited for brevity) from Vancouver's Mike Barkusky came in response to my article in the Vancouver Sun (see Sunday, August 24, 2008 post).

Dear Hans: Kudos to you for raising the unmentionable, and for pointing out the awkward facts. Although I consider myself an economist, I take my cue from ecological economist Herman Daly.

I think the economics of endless "economic" growth are intellectually flawed. As Daly says, what we are experiencing, increasingly, is UNeconomic growth.

Many feel we need population growth to offset the fiscal problem of an aging population. I think postponing population growth slowdown (and reversal) as a transition strategy might buy time, but simply makes the eventual adjustment to equilibrium that much harder.
I think the sooner the world gets to ZPG [zero population growth] or even shrinking human population, the better. My case for that view is ecological-economic, but a surprising number of the points I would make against continued economic growth rest on economic logic that is not really controversial (between standard neo-classical microeconomists and Daly-ite ecological economists).

Most macroeconomists (largely regardless of ideological or methodological school) on the other hand, are still addicted to growth, but mostly because the conceptual categories they deal in (national income, output, jobs in aggregate, etc.) are so aggregated and abstract (and so lacking in qualitative dimensions) that they have trouble seeing the difference between economic goods and "bads."

Herman Daly has written an excellent critique of the late Julian Simon's "Ultimate Resource" (a cornucopian justification of ongoing human population growth) and a number of excellent papers and books on ecological economics, including "Steady State Economics" and "For the Common Good." He considers his key intellectual forebears to include John Stuart Mill — who wrote perceptively and persuasively, in my opinion, on a "steady state economy" way back in 1848 (!) — Kenneth Boulding and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.

- Mike Barkusky, Vancouver

1 comment: said...


The idea "small is beautiful" is not a new notion; the adoption of such an idea leads to sustainable behavior. Surely the reasonable and sensible embrace of a "beautiful, low-consumption lifestyle" for the sake of a better life for a democratic majority of people; for the promotion of global biodiversity; for the protection of the environment; and for the preservation of Earth as a fit place for human habitation, could be one of the most powerfully sustainable and immediately effective behavioral changes the leaders of the family of humanity have made in a very long time.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001