Post-Growth, Credit, Interest and Money

As impressively (though unwittingly) shown by Francis Fukuyama, attempts to imagine the future of societies are likely to go wrong. Extrapolation of trends can well be a bad idea. On the other hand, some idea about what the future is to look like is needed when a major transformation of the society is to be attempted. The transformation towards a post-growth society is no exception here. It would be naive to expect an exacting outline of how a post-growth society is supposed to work, but it is important that those advocating it at least try to give answers to some inconvenient questions: what about productivity growth? Can universal basic income, supported by many in the degrowth movement, work? And what about the monetary and financial systems? The latter question has gained some attention recently, and some argue that monetary factors might be a main obstacle for a post-growth society. Their arguments should get proper consideration if we do not want to choose the wrong transition “trajectory”, given path dependencies so common in socio-economic systems. Continue reading

What Do We Need Homo Oeconomicus For?

A few days ago, the celebrity among German economists, Hans Werner Sinn, published a short piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in which he defends economics against common and, according to him, mistaken criticisms. I won’t take issue with all 6 points he raised (invisible hand, ecology vs economics, Keynesianism vs neoclassical economics, competition, neoliberalism and homo oeconomicus), instead focusing on the last one. I had started writing a post on this anyway, so Sinn’s commentary comes just-in-time. The main question behind my criticism of Sinn’s presentation of the problem is: what do we need homo oeconomicus for? Continue reading

Anthropocentrism and Nature Conservation

In the environmental debate the claim can be often heard that granting nature intrinsic value would solve our problems – in other words, the difficulties we have with protecting nature are due to our overly human-centred perspective. Instead of invoking anthropocentrism one should, so the argument goes, move towards some sort of physiocentrism, i.e., grant some non-human entities intrinsic value. According to this view, anthropocentrism necessarily leads to destruction of the natural world. It is pathocentrism or biocentrism or ecocentrism or holism that would “save the world”. I already once showed that anthropocentrism is not as bad as claimed by those self-proclaimed physiocentrists. Today I would like to go further and show that meaningful conservation of nature is not compatible with physiocentrism – i.e., physiocentrism cannot consistently justify attempts to protect the natural world. Continue reading

Sustainability Science is Puzzling.

Sustainability science can be fun, too.

Ideas for Sustainability

First a warning: If you like your blog entries, insightful, well-structured and written with concision and clarity, you may wish to stop reading at this point (there are many other entries by Joern and others on this blog that can satisfy those peculiar cravings). If on the other hand you enjoy a somewhat rambling blog entry, that uses tenuous analogies, stretched to breaking point, then read on dear reader, read on.

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When I say sustainability science is puzzling, I don’t mean that it is literally bewildering, bamboozling or baffling, although it certainly can be, rather, I mean it is figuratively like the act of ‘puzzling’, more specifically jigsaw puzzling (apologies for using puzzle as a verb, but when in Germany do as the Germans do).

Our world (bless its little cotton socks) is a complex, confusing and often chaotic place. To make sense of that complexity we have developed science…

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Being policy-relevant vs. asking uncomfortable questions

Another very interesting post by Jörn Fischer.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Many scientists working on sustainability issues are in this business because they are concerned about the state of the world. It seems self-evidently reasonable that, therefore, we ought to try to use our science to improve the state of things.

Most scientists, when they think of being relevant, or changing the state of the world for the better, automatically think of informing or influencing policy. This can be a very useful way to change things for the better. For example, new protected areas have been declared on the basis of scientific input to policy; and restoration activities in degraded landscapes have been improved by scientific input delivered to government and non-government organisations. Seeking to inform policy therefore can be a useful activity for scientists trying to improve the world.

When looking at my own work, some of it has been policy-relevant, but some has not – but…

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In Defence of Neobiota

As essentially an anthropocentrist I am entirely comfortable with the notions of useful and harmful species (which correspond with ecosystem services and disservices, respectively). However, I fiercely oppose the notion of “(invasive) alien” species, which is quite popular in the conservation discourse. Notwithstanding its obvious popularity, I think that it is flawed in being xenophobic and arbitrary. Continue reading

Ecosystem Disservices Revisited

Some months ago, I wrote a post here about the concept of ecosystem disservices. My conclusion was the following:

Ecosystem services are of tremendous importance and benefit to humanity. But, seen from the human perspective, these same ecosystems also generate disservices. This is something that is not accounted for in economic valuation efforts going by the name of “ecosystem services valuation”. However, it should be. If we count all the positive services Nature provides us with, we should be realistic and honest enough to count the numerous disservices against them.

Recently, however, I engaged in a discussion of this concept (under this blog post by Joern Fischer), which made clear to me that the matter is much more complicated than I initially thought. I would like to reflect on that point a bit today. Continue reading

On Grasses, Transects and Statistics or Science Is a Mess

As an environmental economist, I in a sense build my work upon the work of others. So, its foundations are provided mainly by ecology and related (sub-)disciplines such as conservation biology. However, while diving into some aspects of these disciplines and interacting with biologists who actually work in the field, I have realised that in many cases, reality is much more messy than a superficial look into the respective literature might suggest. Continue reading

Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics

A thought-provoking text that is somewhat complementary to my last post on the “monolith of economic theory“.

Fixing the Economists

Quotation-Frans-De-Waal-reflection-religion-science-thought-curiosity-Meetville-Quotes-166458

The question asked in the title of this post is actually somewhat of a trick. It is a trick because it all depends upon how you define ‘science’. Often when people say that economics is a science what they are doing is defining ‘science’ in such a way that economics fits the bill. They can do this because there is no real, firm definition of ‘science’ that is widely held among philosophers of science, scientists or, most certainly, among economists (who are the most anti-intellectual of the three groups by far).

If we look at Wikipedia, for example, it gives a definition of science that is Popperian — despite the fact that Popper’s falsifiability criteria have been called into question since the 1960s.

Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the…

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The Seeming Monolith of Economic Theory As Taught at a Typical Economics Department

It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls.

Thus begins the open letter of the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics. As a former student of economics, I can only subscribe to that statement. Economics as a discipline (seemingly) does not offer much diversity of approaches. But economics curricula at most universities are even worse: they do not display even this bit of diversity that does exist. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why I started writing The Sceptical Economist more than four years ago. Continue reading

The Not-So-New Climate Economy Report

An alliance of the most influential global institutions, including the UN, World Bank, IMF and OECD, just issued a report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, chaired by Felipe Calderón and Nicholas Stern. The report’s title is Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy. In a nutshell, it says that not only is climate action compatible with economic growth, but the two may actually work as a positive feedback loop: more climate action leading to more growth, “smart” growth-spurring policies reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. By and large, the report does not contain any new arguments, as it is more of a synthesis of existing research. Alas, it is a synthesis of only a part of existing research, which can be already seen in the title: economic growth is a main objective along with the mitigation of climate change. You’ll vainly look for any reference to the degrowth and a-growth debates, and so the report, while valuable in some respects, reproduces many of the common errors of growth-enthusiasts. Continue reading

Genetic Biodiversity in the Era of Genetic Engineering

Given my past involvement with Greenpeace, the fact that I have changed my mind about genetically engineered crops (GMOs) makes me an apostate. Continuing my heretic writings, I will try to show today that biotechnology, specifically genetic engineering, can be good for biodiversity, specifically genetic diversity. Continue reading

On Economic Valuation and Sick Mothers

I have spent most time this week at the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, which takes place in Leipzig. In one of the sessions today, my doctoral father had the pleasure(?) to defend the economic (valuation) approach to environmental problems in a panel discussion. Most arguments used in this discussion against the economic approach were, I say it frankly, nonsense. Either they resulted from misunderstanding or from confusion or they just didn’t have anything to do with the issue. The only two valid arguments I was able to filter out were: a) that economists often treat ecosystems atomistically in that they value single ecosystem services and then just “add them up”, which is a practice I am very concerned about, too, and b) that the economic approach hasn’t achieved anything so far (which is debatable, but still a valid critique, as there is no systematic assessment of this issue to be checked against). Today, however, I would like to respond to one of the misconception-based arguments, for I think that it shows in an impressive way what economics is (not) and why we need economic analysis. Continue reading

A Question of Balance

“It’s a question of balance.” I guess, this might be the most often-used phrase on this blog. Today, again, I would like to write about an important balancing act that is not easy to achieve. Particularly so, as we have to achieve it (almost) everyday. It is the balance between being satisfied, on the one hand, and not being satisfied, on the other. Continue reading

What’s So Good About Biodiversity?

Sometimes, there are books you wish you wouldn’t have read. Mostly, these are bad books. Recently, I read a quite good book that I nevertheless first wished had escaped my attention. It’s Donald S. Maier’s What’s So Good About Biodiversity: A Call for Better Reasoning About Nature’s Value. It’s shaken up my view of why biodiversity is valuable (although not as much as initially thought). As I had to think a lot about Maier’s provocative and very polemic argumentation, for it has posed a challenge to the core of my PhD thesis, I would like to attempt a “self-therapeutic” review of his book’s first part, in which he attacks the status of biodiversity as carrier of nature’s value (I haven’t yet read his exposition of an own account why nature is valuable). Continue reading

Is Economic Valuation a “Neoliberal Road to Ruin”? A Response to George Monbiot

George Monbiot is actually an environmental journalist I esteem highly. But I do not agree with his aggressive criticism of what he calls a “neoliberal road to ruin”, which I would prefer calling economic valuation of environmental goods and services [the linked article is a transcript of Monbiot’s talk, which you can see below]. While he does make important points, I see his criticism as mistaken in many respects. In what follows, I would like to respond to some of the points he made. Continue reading

In Defence of Anthropocentrism

In the environmental debate, economics is oftentimes criticised for being explicitly anthropocentric, which means, among other things, that it ignores any intrinsic values non-human entities might have. The last time I wrote about this subject, I defended an anthropocentric perspective for rather pragmatic reasons. This time, I would like to offer an ethical defence of it. Continue reading

Ecosystem Services or The Downsides of Choosing the Wrong Namesake

Just a few days ago I published a post in which, among other things, I criticised economists for using the term “value of a statistical life”, as it begs to be misinterpreted and opens up space for criticism that is actually based on misconception. Today, I realised that often I must deal with a similar issue in my own research field. “Ecosystem services”, while arguably originally an eye-opening metaphor, seen from today’s perspective was a badly chosen term. It invites criticisms of the approach that are at odds with its essence, but are suggested by its name. Continue reading