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

GMOs in Happyville

In a paper published in 1992, Paul R. Portney told a nice story about a fictitious town called Happyville. In that story, the director of a local environmental protection authority faces an uneasy task: he has to make a decision about whether to treat water to remove a natural contaminant Happyville’s residents believe to cause cancer. However, according to experts, it is highly unlikely that the contaminant has any adverse health effects–which the residents refuse to accept. Water treatment imposes costs. Eventually, it is the science-denying residents who would pay them. But the director knows that this would be irrational. What should he do, then? Refuse following the irrationality of the public? Or accept people’s will despite knowing that they are effectively harming themselves? There is no simple answer to that. And, obviously, Portney’s story is not just a nice gedankenexperiment, as it has, e.g., obvious relevance for policies related to genetically engineered food crops. Continue reading

The Rationale for Being a Sceptical Economist

Recently I have renamed my blog to “The Sceptical Economist”. Partly, it is an ironic allusion to the self-called Skeptical* Environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg. Another reason for choosing this name is my dedication to rationality, pragmatism and scepticism – the foundation I try to base my worldview on. The last reason rationalizing my choice is my deep scepticism toward the dominant orthodoxy in the discipline I’m trained in – economics. This last reason I would like to explain more comprehensively today. Continue reading

Nothing to Lose But Credit Cards

The influential Spanish sociologist and network society researcher Manuel Castells paraphrased the famous quotation from Marx’ and Engels’ Communist Manifesto in a very interesting way: “Proletarians of all countries, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” became a sentence about today’s citizens of Europe, “They have nothing to lose but their cancelled credit cards!”. It is an expression meant to symbolize the failure of two intermingled societal constructs: financial capitalism and consumer society. Continue reading

It’s deliberative democracy, stupid!

There is a common foundation of most, maybe even all problems I deal with in this blog. The foundation is a somewhat metaphysical one and regards the ethical categories “right” and “wrong”. Indeed, what we do about climate change, whether we engage in genetic engineering, whether and how we should achieve sustainability – all these questions boil down to “What is right?” and the way this basic question can and should be answered. Continue reading

Don’t Force Neonazis to Go Underground

Today a somewhat off-topic post (unless you define sustainability in an extremely encompassing manner).

Recently, the German society has been shaken at its foundations. After two hardly known neonazis had committed joint suicide and a video made by them had surfaced, authorities have realized that at least 10 murders on foreigners (that were extensively covered by the media), committed since 1998, were not isolated acts of violence – they were a thoroughly planned and organized series of murders. The murderers called themselves the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU) and were possibly supported by numerous individuals from the neonazi scene. Following this shock, another wave of calls to delegalize the NPD (Germany’s National-Democratic Party) unleashed. I ask myself: what for? Continue reading

Time for New Forms of Democratic Decision-Making

Democracy is in a crisis, at least in the so-called developed world. Peoples lose connection to their elected governments, and vice-versa. Elected representatives – the main institutional feature of modern parliamentary democracy – repeatedly show that they are unable to properly fulfill their duties. As a result, authoritarian and populist movements gain ground – Hungary is only the tip of the iceberg. So, maybe it is time to think about what democracy really is and whether the current institutional framework is still up to the needs of our time. Continue reading

Justice in a Plural World

There is much talk about justice in the media. It has become a very popular word. And rightly so. In today’s world justice is very important – be it in the area of politics, economy or, increasingly, ecology. But what exactly is justice? Whom do we owe justice? And who are the “we”? What is the source of justice? What are its consequences? Is there something like the often invoked global justice? And if yes, what is its foundation (or: do we need a global government?)? What do democracy or human rights mean for justice? All these questions have been answered in many different ways by many different thinkers throughout history. One of those thinkers – a contemporary one – is Amartya Sen. His is the theory of justice I would like to present here (as it is discussed in his The Idea of Justice). Continue reading

Uncertainty and Decision-Making

How long can an ecosystem endure pressures without collapsing? How high is the climate sensitivity? What are the long-term consequences of growing and consuming GMO? How much renewable energy is feasible? How many species can get extinct without destabilizing an ecosystem? What is the (future expected) value of biodiversity? How long will oil, coal and uranium last? How large are the dangers from nuclear power? These are a few important questions that are highly uncertain. We probably cannot answer them exactly – at least not ex ante. So, how to deal with uncertainty when it comes to decision-making? Continue reading

Globalization’s Trilemma and Sustainability

Can we enjoy democracy, nation state and deep economic globalization at once? This is the big question posed by the outstanding development economist Dani Rodrik in his recent book “The Globalization Paradox”. His answer is: no, we cannot have them all at the same time. We are forced to choose two of the goals instead, limiting our pursuit for the third one. As Rodrik further argues, since democracy is and remains one of humanity’s greatest achievements and one can hardly imagine a global government, economic globalization is what has to be constrained. I would like to show here that from the point of view of sustainability, his is an essential insight. Continue reading