« Cost-Benefit Analysis: Wonder Tool or Mirage? | Main | Tim Haab Welcomes Us to the EcoEcon Conversation »

March 01, 2006


Dave Iverson


You say, "Where I disagree with Daly's assessment of the economic dilemma is in his claim that these pre-analytic visions are irreconcilable. I think they can be reconciled within a more integral vision that honors the partial truth in each, while providing some practical guidelines for post-visionary analyses of sustainable economic growth."

I don't think that Daly and others would disagree that "they can be reconciled." I think that the main point is that they continue not to be reconciled, since so many faith-based practitioners and TV-blinded followers seem to keep focusing on narrow so-called "economic reasoning." I think that is the reason Daly and others have spoken out: to point out blindspots in our cultural mindmaps.

Another point: Although I love your references to "double-loop learning," I can not believe in your reliance on "eventual, but certain, ecological crises to force policy makers, business leaders, and market participants to learn." People seem incapable of learning from the mistakes of others. I'm drawn to Robert Heinlein's line, paraphrasing: "People don't learn from the mistakes of others. They seldom learn from their own mistakes. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity."

Finally, your conclusion, "The primary goal of our post-visionary analysis is therefore to craft public policies, business strategies, and personal practices that will move the economy toward a pattern in which physical growth is systematically replaced by mental growth even while overall growth in terms of aggregate prices continues to rise."

I don't think that any would disagree with this, although I might quibble a bit with the "while overall growth in terms of aggregate prices continues to rise." My Austrian economic roots force me to think that we are deluding ourselves currently with what we might call naive monetary Keynesianism. We might be setting ourselves up for a major-league deflationary crash. But that is the stuff for other blogs and conversations dealing with international finance and geopolitics.

Daniel O'Connor


I have to assume that Daly meant what he said in the introduction to his book: "The difference between these two visions could not be more fundamental, more elementary, or more irreconcilable." Having demonstrated a reconciliation, I would expect some ecological economists and their students to agree, upon reflection, that the two competing visions can be reconciled. Some probably already see it this way, but I just haven't discovered their writings. Others, even after seeing the reconciliation will find ways to dismiss it and revert back to the materialist vision.

Yesterday, while getting to know Steve Keen's very impressive work on Debunking Economics -- http://www.debunking-economics.com/ -- I followed a link to the Post-Autistic Economics Review and found this page illustrating Two Worldviews: http://www.paecon.net/TwoWorldViews.htm
The question at the bottom of the page sums up the debate: "Are you a view-one person or a view-two?"

I am a "view-three" person, but I have never seen anyone else offer a third view that integrates the first two views. I've been offering this reconciliation to anyone who would listen for nine years now. Most people understand it after I explain it and some even proclaim that this is how they always viewed the situation, despite the fact that the conversation began with them pronounicing the absolute limits to all growth. Despite my little work at the margin of this debate, within the overall economic dialogue, as you said, "they continue not to be reconciled."

As for double-loop Market Learning (and State Learning, Social Learning, etc.), it's not that I rely on this with some naive optimism. It just describes what will have to happen in order for us to transition to a sustainable economy. If developmental psychologists are accurate, there may only be about 1% of the population capable of intentional double-loop learning at this time. I'm not sure what it will take for critical mass, but I think we have a ways to go in our development as people in order to avert ecological and economic crises. Max Planck once said "science advances one funeral at a time." What this implies to me is that even our most disciplined intellectuals would rather die than fundamentally change their minds. This is the challenge of double-loop learning in any context.

Regarding the final point about overall growth in aggregate prices, I was trying to make explicit one of the goals that is already implicit in the current design of the monetary system as it is today, with the inherent need for sustainable growth in money and credit independent of any growth in output. I'm not endorsing the current design nor assuming that it will actually be sustainable. I have a lot of Austrian in me as well and have written perhaps too much already on the crisis-potential in our debt-based monetary system.

I hope this clarifies my statements a bit. Thanks for the push-back to move the conversation forward.


I challenge anyone in EE to come up with a definition of sustainability, carrying capacity, or any of the other terms that they throw around that is actually OPERATIONAL. Second, the underpinning of much EE that advocates will rarely fess up to is that they want a massively expanded role of government in setting the economy on its "appropriate path" and telling people what to consume and how much- the centralization of power implicit in EE philosophy borders on authoritarianism at its core- just ask Josh Farley, author of the recent textbook on EE- who will willingly tell you how people don't realize the bad things they consumer which the government needs to regulate and ration. EE is essentially paternalistic. Ok, ok, yeah, you got me, I really don't like EE too much....anyway, if someone in EE wants to debate let's start...

Lee A. Arnold

J.S.: "I challenge anyone in EE to come up with a definition of sustainability, carrying capacity, or any of the other terms that they throw around that is actually OPERATIONAL."

"Sustainability" is managing the human footprint without increasing its area size, and managing it so as to allow the adjacent wildlife ecosystems to continue without incurring extra extinction debt.

This now includes attention to biogeochemical cycles.

After that, the human economy can do anything it can invent and have fun with.

A "sustainable" energy policy would be one that does not cause additional Antarctic ice mass reduction (see today's news,) much less permanent war in the MIddle East.

A sustainable walking policy would be walking down the street without getting hit by a car, and so on.

J.S.: "Second, the underpinning of much EE that advocates will rarely fess up to is that they want a massively expanded role of government...[etc.]"

No doubt because they see the smashing job that President Bush has done with it! ...Perhaps it is time to finally lay this defeatist canard in its grave?


Lee- thanks- so...

1. The average U.S. ecological footprint is about 4 times the world average so how are we to enforce your point about reducing it to sustainable levels?

2. Since the biocapacity of the earth is radically different in different regions does everyone get to use only average amount of bio-availability in their country where they were born or from the world as a whole? And if it's the world as a whole how to you attempt to accomplish this massive global redistribution of goods?

3. As to sustainable energy policy, you say no more Arctic melt- so then I assume you are suggesting that we immediately stop using all fossil fuels and go back to living as hunter-gatherers, correct?

4. As to Bush's massive failures I offer only agreement, but by default that does not mean that I would be comfortable with Ecological Economists like Josh Farley and Herman Daly at the helm dictating to the world what everyone can and cannot do- that is equally terrifying...


Lee A. Arnold

J.S. -- you make it too complicated by half. ("Ecological footprint?" "Biocapacity?" Define THOSE.) Simply stop any more impact on wildlife areas, even indirect. (Or: take responsibility for the end of wildlife creation.) If you say saving the wildlife can't be done, then you also can't explain how the world could have increased its economic growth over history by a factor of -- what? a thousand? ten thousand? -- yet only use up around 90% of the wild areas. So you can probably leave the remaining ten percent alone. As to whether reducing fossil-fuel use will send you back to being a hunter-gatherer, that shows you're not serious. By the way, I said Antarctic melt. We already knew the Arctic is melting. And I've never talked to Josh Farley, but accusing Herman Daly of wanting to dictate anything to anybody is insulting and idiotic.


Lee- your aggressive responses are perfect examples of the nonsense that makes up much of EE:

1. You were the one who used the footprint so I asked questions about it, and your answers show that you haven't taken the time to think these issues through

2. I never said not to save wildlife so I don't know what you're talking about

3. Ending all Artic melt means stopping global warming which means stopping fossil fuel use- if not, explain

4. You say that EE is not paternalistic and doesn't want to dictate but that's almost the entire philosophy!! How do you think you will stop developing wildlife, stop Artic melt, create an egalitarian distribution of resources, enforce carrying capacity- I can see that you have not taken the time to actually understand the policy implications of EE.

If you actually want to engage in substantive debate please continue- if you want to continue to pledge your allegiance to the dogma of EE I'll pass...


Lee A. Arnold

J.S. (1) I wrote "human footprint," you responded with an unrelated, erroneous, and finally misleading question about an "ecological footprint." (2) You asked for a definition of "sustainability," I responded with a clear one about making all economic decisions so as to save all remaining wildlife, even by indirect impact, and you now write that you don't know what I'm talking about. (3) "Stopping" fossil fuel use is not under consideration here, while reducing it does not lead back to a hunter-gatherer culture. (4) Since the market dictates outcomes of another sort, and people can change their consumption habits, the idea that EE is especially paternalistic, or even needs to be, is nonsense. Meanwhile governments regularly have regulations, and the economy really isn't harmed a whit, despite what you swallowed in Econ 101. The rest is business roundtable propaganda. (5) Presuming that someone hasn't thought these issues through, without reading carefully what they wrote, was your most telling, damning error.


Lee- you aren't making any sense and refuse to actually answer my questions- for your informaatin, human footprint is directly related to ecological footprint and biocapacity- you obviously have no idea what you're talking about since you don't have even your basic terms down. Is there anyone else out there who wants to actually debabte issues and who can back up what they say????

Dave Iverson


I might be willing to at least address Tim's observations if not some of your concerns, but alas I'm off to Idaho for the weekend and Colorado next week. So I might not get much added to this conversation for about a week. Still, none of this will settle out any time soon anyway.

What I will say, is that I am a fiscal conservative, and am as afraid of big government as most of my libertarian friends. My other blog (click on my name below) attests to this.

Still, I do believe that sustainabilty is a much-needed social goal now pretty much absent from our social and political landscape. Like freedom, justice, fairness, and other such words, coming up with operational definitions is a stretch. But at least we have begun talking about sustainability, and that is a start.

As to EE being "paternalistic." I dunno. Somehow I doubt that Daly, Boulding, Hardin, and other principals in the movement ever envisioned it as such. As the subtitle of this blog suggests, EE was meant to be an ongoing conversation, not a political agenda..

Lee A. Arnold

J.S. It depends on how you make the definition of "sustainable." The U.S. has some of the best remaining national parks. The ecological impact of the U.S. is NOT necessarily bad, if we start NOW to grow ONLY in ways which leave wildlife ecosystems alone, and start to remove the added effects to biogeochemical cycles and the climate. That will be more sustainable. The rest of the world can have a better standard of living by using transportation systems that are more fuel-efficient than ours, and we can change, also. The free market works pretty well for that kind of stuff. Government paternalism doesn't have to be any worse than it is now.


My point about EE being paternalistic is not derived so much from direct proclamations from the ideological founders, but from the implications of their prescriptions. Also, when you get into the largescale redistributive side of EE it gets very close to other utopian dreams of the left that the 20th century proved go terribly, terribly wrong. As an environmental economist, I believe strongly in markets and property rights, as well as moral evolution so that people actually VALUE and CARE about the environment, but I have yet to really see anything substantive from EE that is either operational or makes much sense to me. As someone once said EE is ecologists doing bad economics and economists doing bad ecology. I don't know if I would go that far, but remembering Josh Farley literally bragging about how his group of EE had not a single economist struck me as bizarre. I also think that many in EE are simply neo-Malthusians and neo-Luddites with a different title. So my next question: Can someone tell me a single policy prescription that comes out of EE that is different from standard economics that is workable in the real world and would lead to better outcomes, while still respecting people's individual freedom?


Lee A. Arnold

Micro or macro?


Is this really an Ecological Econ blog?
If so then why the silly noosphere stuff - shouldn't there be a different blog for that. It reminds me of all those religous philosophers down the ages trying to make room for a personal god in the face of all the scientific evidence against it.
Enough of the unfortunate compromises already! Thats been a big part of the problem to date.

Lets be clear. Daly's model is a better reflection of reality. There is no reason to seek a reconciliation with the unbounded growth model, and attempting one is just muddying the water.
Sure the implications are uncomfortable. The sustainable carrying capacity of the earth is estimated by Paul Ehrlich at around 2billion (see his latest book - One with Nineveh). While this obviously isn't a hard and fast number, it illustrates the scale of the problem - too many ecologically illiterate over-consuming humans.
Now can we get on with thinking seriously about socially and morally acceptable solutions, or must we persist with looking for ways to deny the problem?

To paraphrase John Todd, Amory Lovins and others, we have the tools, we just have to accept the challenge and get on with the job.
Given such a low starting point it's pretty easy to dramatically improve the situation. How hard is it to imagine teaching ecological literacy, significantly reducing our energy, water and other resource consumption by designing to scale, and giving the people of the world access to family planning (no this isn't paternalism its mostly about women's rights)?

That's seem easier to swallow to me than infinite growth or noospheric contortions.


Ok Ian- please begin the discussion of how to get rid of 4+ billion ecological illerates in a "moral" way. Sorry, education won't do the trick since the UN estimates we will level off at around 10 billion (it would be more if it weren't for AIDS- does that make people at EE happy?)- so in reality, according to your guess as to the correct carrying capacity we need to eliminate about 8 billion eco-illiteratres. Thanks for the perfect demonstration of everything I was pointing out above. Finally, even your solutions do not represent a single substantive departure from anything regular old-fashion classical economists believe so again I repeat- is there anyone out there who can point to a SINGLE unique policy prescription coming out of EE (except massive population reductions based on numbers by Paul Ehrlich who was been alarming us for decades and IS ALWAYS WRONG?)



Lee A. Arnold

Ian: In general agreement, but for one point. There's a big reason why noospheric infinities, or an analogue, will be included in the future biogeoepistemology of economic growth, and that is because there are two major sources of economic growth, to begin with: (1) greater efficiencies in matter-energy work, by machine technology, and (2) increases in effective organization, by better information of all kinds. I agree that terminology can often be oogly, and so this #2, unfortunately and unnecessarily, is the "noosphere." But giving people the idea that better organization, of mind and society, is itself a part of free-market economic growth away from ecological destruction, is not only a good strategy of hopefulness: it is epistemologically sound science, by principles going back to Descartes.

And perhaps a second point: Descartes might have observed, had he lived this long, there is no scientific evidence against a personal god. The rational process of science heads in the polar-opposite direction of the mental employments required to decide that issue. That is about the most that could be said with clarity. Of course, this could mean that the universe is epistemologically dualist, though not entirely along mind/body lines.

In fact, it could be said, that much of the battle over ecological economics, environmental economics, whatever, gives off more than a whiff of a misguided presumption of epistemological monism in BOTH the advocates and the detractors. Again, this would have annoyed Descartes -- while amusing Whitehead, and getting a laugh from Bateson.

Dave Iverson


When he received his "Nobel," George Stigler remarked that although a knowledge of Calculus was essential to the practicing economist, sublime patience was useful too. I think that such patience is warranted for the cross-disciplinary conversation of Ecological Economics as well.

I remember an old high school friend who is an Orthopedic Surgeon telling me about another friend who is a Chiropractor. The Orthopedic Surgeon said that the medical profession was just then (15 or 20 years ago) beginning to recognize the value of what the Chiropractors were attempting in their practice. He said the in about another hundred years maybe the two professions might be working hand in glove one with another.

So too I believe with ecologists and economists. Why would one expect miracles from the discussion thus far. I think it a miracle the some from the two camps now try to work together, compare notes, perspectives and what not.


Dave- fair enough, but EE has been around for a while and while I freely admit that I am purposefully being a little harsh and provocative I actually think some of the far left stuff that is implicit in EE is actually very dangerous. The nonsense that people like Ehrlich spout can have real consequences (see the posts above) and the underlying anti-capitalist, anti-technology, aspect of EE is not something I am comfortable with at all. Intentions are well and good, but like we all know they pave the way to some bad places. I think the more the underlying foundations of EE are fleshed out the more people will see that it's not a very sound set of ideas. I have been around enough people who call themselves members of EE to be very very wary. But I'll keep an open mind.


Dave Iverson


I hear your concerns loud and clear. This morning I'm headed to Colorado to meet with Forest Service Social Scientists, mostly economists. For 25 years I've been trying to broaden the focus of the group to include political science and psychological framing for decision making. It's been a long, lonely vigil.

There is much nonsense among disciples in any discipline. My favorite target is economics, in various schools. Your favorite target seems to be more narrowly framed toward those who call themselves Ecological Economists. I remain Heterodox in matter economic, and a contrarian voice in most all. Still, I welcome lively interchanges and "Fierce Conversations." On the latter see, http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/blog/2005/04/fierce_conversa.html


Excellent- I am a big critic of some aspects of economics as well- the key to criticizing economics is that first you must actually understand it. Unfortunately, many in EE don't even have backgrounds in economics and just as I would sound pretty ridiculous making broad critiques of physics.....

Daniel O'Connor

I can see from some of the comments above that we have a framing issue to clear up. Notwithstanding the title of this weblog, Ecological Economics, many of the co-authors who have agreed to post and cross-post to this blog are not ecological economists. Personally, I find it a waste of time to take up just one side of a debate when I actually see at least partial validity in both sides. But I'm pleased to see that others may be finding it worthwhile.

In response to the dismissive comment above regarding the "silly" notion of the "noosphere," I will simply say that had you actually read the post in which that word appeared you would have noticed at least two things. First, there IS another weblog for silly notions like this: the weblog from which this post originated, as stated at the end of the post. Second, the noosphere is nothing more and nothing less than human civilization beyond our matter/energy/chemical/biological throughputs. Some of us actually value this aspect of conscious life and willingly create it and pay for it in the market. Notwithstanding the perennial materialist denial that you articulate so well, the noosphere is quite real and quite essential to the world as we know it. Denying the critical role that innovation, knowledge, values, shared understanding, and psychological development play in the transition to ecological sustainability is just as myopic and dangerous as the denial of physical limits to growth.

Now, perhaps you'd like to talk about the theosphere?

Dave Iverson


You've hit on the reason I titled the blog "Ecological Economics: A Cross-Disciplinary Conversation." This weblog it meant to investigate the interaction between the two disciplines as it progresses through the years.

I don't know exactly what an "ecological economist" is. I don't think there is any one such thing. If there is we can leave it to others to help educate me. I do believe that the ongoing conversation between ecologists and economists is very, very important.

There is an International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE). I am a member of ISEE, but don't believe all who contribute here should be required to carry ISEE membership cards.

Finally, I very much agree with you that "Denying the critical role that innovation, knowledge, values, shared understanding, and psychological development play in the transition to ecological sustainability is just as myopic and dangerous as the denial of physical limits to growth."

Ed Nold

Robert Costanza has proposed three general policies to achieve sustainability:
1. A Natural Capital depletion tax. Currently, the depletion of natural resources are considered an increase in capital for the company that does the depletion. Viewing natural resources as assets and charging for their use would make companies far more efficient in their use. Currently, more than 90% of what the economy produces is waste.
2. The precautionary polluter pays principle (4P) with environmental bond required. Instead of being able to pollute and then go out of business leaving a mess for the government to clean up, entities would have to post an environmental bond to cover the costs of clean-up. This would help industries to green-up their act to avoid high bond costs. Bonds have been required to guarantee performance in the construction industry for many years.
3. A system of ecological tariffs aimed at allowing individual countries or trading blocks to apply policies 1 and 2 without forcing producers to move overseas in order to remain competitive.

Ed N

The comments to this entry are closed.

Want Email Updates?

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz


  • This is a personal web site, reflecting only the opinions of its authors. It was built and is manitained in occasional spare moments. Statements on this site do not represent the views or policies of anyone other than the person offering up the views.


  • Our Ecological Economics web-log is designed to daylight and refine economists’ and ecologists' views, agreements, and disagreements on current environmental and natural resource issues. We also hope this blog will help ecological economics ideas gain traction in social and political discussion and policy making.


Ocassonal Contributors

Would-Be Contributors

Strategic Thinking Blogs

Blog powered by Typepad